For once, Dust Town refused to look her in the eye today. Not that she would let them if they had the chance- she stuck mostly to the shadows, avoiding anything that crossed her path. Today was a day of: you didn't see me, right?

"I don't get why you're leader." Missa Brosca turned on her heel and glared at the voice, an eyebrow raised.

"Problem, duster?" She whispered harshly. Her eyes at the runty red head in front her, annoyed at the tone.

He took one look at her glare and looked down. "No."

"Good. We stick to the plan, we'll be fine. Leske is scouting ahead in the Commons. Beraht's paid the guards to not be there when we arrive, which means we got to work quickly and cleanly. What do we have to do?" She asked, poking the two men then.

"Whatever you say," one muttered. Missa rolled her eyes. While she'd seen this particular duster fight and knew his skills, he was one step short of useless when it came to thinking.

"Good. Now keeps your heads down and your mouth shut, we're about to leave Dust Town. And hide your weapons, for Stone's sake…"

The unassuming entrance marked the end of Dust Town, and spilled into the Commons. The light was brighter here, but there were still shadows to hide in. They slipped though a hole in a wall that was unguarded, and headed to the back of an empty shop.

Leske appeared then and winked at her. Missa pulled the cloak around from her head and raised an eyebrow expectantly. "We're in shit street, salroka," he murmured. "Fool must've expected trouble, he's got bodyguards."

"How many?" She asked roughly, and shifted the holders of her daggers around her chest.

"An actual elf, first I've seen one; she was carrying a crossbow. Four surfacer thugs, weapons don't look used."

"Five against four, not bad." Missa started to bounce on her heels, nervous energy pouring through her.

"Six if you include the merchant- he doesn't look a slob with that sword of his. No, the problems will be the elf and our mark. We got to play it careful."

"Right." She thought and decided quickly. "You two," and at that she aimed a kick at their companions. "Heard all that?" They nodded once, jaws tight. "You'll be on the guards, Leske on the elf. I'll be on the merchant."

Missa shrugged off her cloak and stashed it behind some rubble, ready to fight. "Traps have been set," Leske murmured, adjusting the kerchief around his neck. "Do or die, duster," he murmured. It was their prayer said before every job they did, a habit neither of them could shake.

"Then let's move out." Missa gestured for stealth and pushed the back door open, walking into the rundown shop. From her vantage point she could see the merchant waiting. He was expecting a meeting with Beraht; what he would be getting instead was her.

She stepped forward and made herself known. The elven bodyguard spotted her first and subtly shifted a firmer hold on a crossbow, eyes never leaving Missa's face. Leske and the others waited in the shadows for her word.

"Where's Beraht?" The merchant asked. He was a middle aged dwarf with a black beard; his clothes and demeanour stunk of the surface, and Missa shrugged.

"I've been sent with a message. Guthrin, I assume?"

The merchant laughed, and nodded to his guard. "There's a surprise. Though I hardly think it's just you, is it?"

Missa grinned. "Hey, don't shoot the messenger. I'm here just to deliver his words." The merchant gestured once and the elven woman to his right stood down, still waiting for a sign of something.

"So speak, messenger."

She was glad for the opportunity to pad out the time. The guards had yet to swing by and lock the front doors, so she raised her hands. "Beraht is …not happy about the spice shipments he brought from you. They, uh, have not arrived when they said they would. He's lost money, and that makes him annoyed."

The merchant examined his fingernails. "Beraht has no concept of how things are shipped and dealt with on the surface. I do not control the sea and the waves; I have no control over how long it takes for things to arrive by cargo. It was estimated that the ship would arrive in Highever a month ago, but it was only that- an estimation."

Missa shrugged again. "Well, the thing is," she said slowly, finally noticing the city guards at the shop entrance. "Beraht's an impatient man. He, let's just say… Decided to end the deal now, and has already acquired the money back in ways I don't quite understand, but I assume that means he's already taken from you. What happens now is, well..."

One of the Commons guards cleared his throat. "We'll be off now. The next hour the city watch didn't see anything but the lava." Missa nodded, and the front door was slammed shut with a bolt from the front. Missa ducked as the elf -Stone, she was quick- swung her bow over and she felt an arrow graze her shoulder. It stung enough for her to growl in pain.

"Leske, now!" She yelled, and the room filled with fog. Quickly she pulled her mask over mouth and watched as the merchant and his guards coughed and wheezed their way in the distracting smoke, eyes watering. She aimed a kick at the merchant's kidneys, watching as the apparently green bodyguards made short work of her other men. Leske had the elf woman on her knees, but he was soon knocked over by a punch to the shoulder.

Missa managed to put her blade to a delicate throat and ran the woman through. A shield was brought to Leske's head, and down he fell. She growled again and struck out, but her attack was feinted and a fist was brought to her nose; she felt something break, and blood drip down her face.

Two men were still standing, including the merchant; she was the only one left, and with a grin she noticed that they were both bleeding heavily. She feinted as the bodyguard charged at her and dodged an attack, driving a dagger through his back. He fell down, and she circled the merchant, eyes raised.

"Just give him the shipment," she said roughly. "It doesn't have to end like this."

Her request was ignored and he raised his sword shakily, blood pooling by his legs. Missa ducked and rolled, kicking him to the floor where he collapsed.

She walked over to her men, counting the casualties. The dusters she brought on the job were dead, blood already staining the stone. She frowned at Leske, and tried to ignore the tightness in her chest as she approached his still form.

Missa poked him with her foot gently, smoke dissipating in the room. With one eye on the merchant, she leant over Leske. She grabbed his stubbly jaw and shook it carefully, with the acquired crossbow now aimed on her captive. Carefully she pried back her friend's eyes, realising he was only unconscious.

With a sigh, she walked over to the merchant; one of his guards started to wake, and she stomped on his hands and kicked the nearest sword out of reach. A swift boot to the head stopped any movement; she was finally alone with the man she was sent to kill.

Wiping the cut on her lip, Missa glared at the merchant. "Shall we try this again, Guthrin?" She drawled, swallowing blood. Her nose still smarted from the blow.

"Not bad for a Beraht lackey."

Missa mockingly bowed. "At your service."

"Huh. A woman. Figures." Gurthin coughed up some blood and spat it to his side. Missa crouched over him and poked one of his wound. He was bleeding heavily; Leske had appeared to cripple his legs before he went down, and Missa worked out he didn't have much time left.

"Don't try anything," she threatened, crossbow shouldered. She found the dead elf's ammo and cocked the bolt back, grunting at the strength it took to do so.

Gurthin looked at her then, assessing her quietly. "I'll pay you double what he's paying you if let me go. I have a wife and daughter to care for, I love them very much."

Missa snorted at that, and cleared the counter so she could sit on something. "Doesn't work like that. You should know by now."

Gurthin laughed then, and coughed up more blood. "Does it have to?"

She examined her crossbow, laying it quietly on her lap. "Like a surfacer would know," she muttered at him. At that, the merchant laughed again. Missa shook her head. "You must've taken a blow worse then I thought… So let's try this one more time. You were paid for the spices; the spices haven't arrived. Beraht is angry. Do you see where this is going?"

"Why does it matter?" Gurthrin said, still laughing. "I'm going to die anyway. Right? You're going to kill me. So fuck you."

She flexed her left arm experimentally and checked her wounds, shrugging at him distantly. "Maybe not. I don't do completely as I'm bid, you know."

Gurthin tried moving, but gave up when it opened up more wounds. He looked up at her, face pale. "What's your name?"

Missa rolled her eyes at the attempt at civility and snorted again. "Call me Missa."

"If that's your real name. Tell me, Missa. Do you care that the King is dying? Does it matter to you?" She kept the confusion that flickered across her face away from his gaze, baffled he would ask that question in a tone that would suggest they were polite strangers.

"What's one dead king to me? Like they give a shit about a brand, any of them."

Gurthin laughed again, blood spilling out of his mouth. "Ah, Missa. See, you're lying to me."

She screwed her face up in disbelief, and laughed once. "Whatever, duster. Just- look, just tell me where the spices are. And maybe you can walk away from this alive."

"They got held up at sea, such is the nature of ships. Beraht knew this when he signed over the claim, and yet he still sent you. No, we're not talking about that. See, duster," and he spat the word back at her, "I was once like you. Yapping at the heels of the local crime lord, licking the boots of the Carta. You may think I'm a surfacer, but I was born in Dust Town."

Missa rose and pushed a dagger to his throat, her eyes sparking in anger. "And just because you're like me I should let you go? You don't know Dust Town at all," she replied, her blade digging in enough to warn.

"Oh I know Dust Town. Tell me, Missa," and blood flecked spittle hit her cheek as he talked, "what would you give to leave it? To forget it all, for your brand to somehow disappear over night?"

She laughed then. "And what, become a surfacer, like you? To drown in all that open air? No thanks."

"Fuck Stone sense. It's a load of bronto shit, and you know it. What has the Stone done for you, sweetheart? No, I look at you and you know that. You know you're scum. So start being honest with me; give a dying man that."

She shrugged, then sat back down on her seat. "Fine. Ask away, old man. You're just a dead duster talking. If those wounds of yours are anything to go by, anyway..."

"If you stay here, then what? What would you do? Oh, you may rise in the Carta. You may catch the eye of a higher caste or two, an exotic looking woman quick with a knife certainly comes in handy… But don't assume you'll be a Noble Hunter, not with those scars and tattoos. You have it worse then the poor slobs rotting away in Dust Town. Because you're a brand with ambition." The merchant spat more blood out, and his voice started to roughen.

Missa pursed her lips, amused at him. "Do tell, fortune teller. Read my cards for me."

Gurthin coughed up more blood, body wracking in pain. "What will happen to you? Maybe you'll meet someone. Maybe you already have," and at that he gestured to the prone, quiet form of Leske, who was still unconscious. "He'll be a fraction of what you could hope for, but you'll make do. Because that's what Dust Town does, you see. It makes do. Of course, that'll be the first of your hopes to be shat on, because what's worse then one brand, but two? Slowly the dirt of the city will choke you, and will drag you down."

She stood up, anger clenching her fists, pushing all thoughts of her Mother out of her mind. "You don't know what you're talking about. I'm not my- I'm not.."

"So don't be. Fuck 'em all, and leave. I'll pay for a new life for you; you seem like a smart girl and can fight. There'd be plenty of work for you on the surface."

Missa thought of Beraht and the hold he had over their family and just laughed hollowly. She knew Rica and her Mother would never follow to the surface, ever. "No."

He knew he had struck a nerve, but carried on. "One day the Carta will have enough of you, you know; maybe they'll kill you," Gurthin had collapsed completely now, fight out of him. Missa knew he was dying.

"No they won't," she whispered. "I'll kill them first."

He heard her words and coughed again in a fit of laughter. "If somehow you live, you'll wear your anger and disappointment like a lady wears her jewels- that fine mouth of yours will become mean and hard. Whatever kids you push out in the dirt won't even raise a drink in your direction when your corpse is sent into the lava, as you've finally become everything you hate, old and useless and dying for nothing."

His last words echoed around the room. She look stunned at her hands; the crossbow was in them, string loose from being fired; the bolt lay in-between the merchant's eyes, and she dropped the weapon to the floor with a shocked clatter; she didn't even remember pulling the trigger.

"Urgh…." Leske stirred behind her. Missa shook herself once and rose to reach him, and helped her friend up. "Well salroka," he said, slurring his words. "If I look as bad as I feel, then I'm in trouble."

"Quit your bitching," she said, pain lacing her sides as he leant on her.

"The merchant?"

"Dead," Missa flicked her gaze briefly to the bleeding corpse on the floor, and tightened her jaw.

"Well, shit. Job done, then. All thanks to me, obviously." It was hard not to smack him over the head for that, despite his injury.

"He didn't have the spices, said they were lost at sea."

"Huh. Beraht's going to be really happy about that. What about the others?" He looked around, and Missa started walking to the back door.

"Dead. All dead; we're the last ones alive."

"Then let's get out of here, before we're seen," he replied. Missa didn't need telling twice, and the pair of them left the shop finally.

The pair of them headed out of the Commons and back to Dust Town, with Missa helping Leske every few steps. They were dead dusters walking, she knew. But all she could do was survive.