Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The Death of Apathy
By Riley Pearsall, 13
A rock flew through a window. As the glass shattered, the rock continued its journey through the air, soaring across the room, past the small and simple bed, over the miscellaneous piles scattered over the room containing everything from food to weapons, and finishing its airborne adventure by slamming into a cup of hot coffee and skittering across the floor until it hit the wall and ceased to move.
Milo Steel, Assassin First Class, only knew that he suddenly had boiling hot coffee over his hand, legs, and groin, and he didn't really care about anything else at the moment.
Milo's first action to welcome the rock's arrival was to fall to the floor, screaming in pain, and desperately trying to remember the cooling/burn treatment spells that were part of an assassin's required Magickal learning. He dragged himself across the floor with his good hand, inch by burning inch, over to one of the piles of junk that filled his small room, rooted around in it, and dragged out a dog-eared copy of Practikal Magick for Amateur Magi, which he opened to the page he had bookmarked “in case of hot things” and screamed out the most powerful of the charms.
Instantly the pain dulled enough for Milo to stand up and begin to wonder why his mug and window were lying on the floor in pieces. He searched around and eventually his eyes found the rock that was the cause of all the trouble, lying serenely on his floor.
A further explanation of the rock is required. It was vaguely circular, gray, and rough to the touch: all of which is completely inconsequential. The important thing about this rock is that it was surrounded by a sheet of parchment, tied on by a piece of string. (Although it may be argued that the rock was also important in that it caused one of the most talented assassins of the Organization to squeal like a five summer old while writhing on the floor in pain.)
Milo hobbled over to the rock, picked it up and clumsily untied the string. The paper floated to the floor. Milo glared at the rock. He brought his arm back and hurled the offending projectile across the room. The rock, its usual cheeky self, went flying through the only unbroken window Milo had possessed.
Milo colorfully swore. He had forgotten Rule #4: The Assassin Does Not Make Rash Decisions. The Assassin Handbooke might be filled with rules that one obeyed like the cops obeyed their No Bribes rule, but its advice could be handy.
Milo sighed and stooped down to pick up the piece of paper. It read 232 Phoenix St. Roland and Alice Juggernaut, Male & Female, Husband & Wife. Cause of Death, No Specifics. Pay is 2,000 Gold Upon Acceptance, 3,000 Gold Upon Completion, & Whatever You Can Loot From The Bodies or House. There was a picture of a smiling couple sitting on something the artist had not bothered to draw, holding hands.
Milo smiled. This was more like it. He had a job to do. And a particularly well paying one at that! He had successfully assassinated forty-nine men before he had been admitted to Class One, the best grade of assassins, his victims' lives worth no more than about seventy-five gold apiece to whoever was paying for their deaths. And now his first job as a Class One would see him with the most money he had ever seen at one time since he took that solid gold brick from Target #34’s house!
“You'd think they could slip these through the mail slot!” Milo exclaimed as he changed out of his wet and faintly steaming clothes. He slipped on a gray pair of pants and a light pair of boots. He then concealed upon his person ten knives of varying sizes, a file, a skeleton key (taken from a thief who tried to jump him and is now a skeleton himself), a pocket Practikal Magick for Amateur Magi, and a slightly squashed ham sandwich that would only become even more squashed in its confinement.
Satisfied, Milo walked out the door of his apartment, determined to accept his deadly though lucrative mission, and, even more important, find a competent healer specialized in burn treatment.
A man in his mid-twenty summers exits the shop on 692 Peddler St. Let us examine him. He is short, half a head shorter than an average man. His hair is obsidian black, cut not short or long. His eyes are a dark brown, his mouth devoid of laugh lines. He is wearing a shirt, pants, and boots, all a nondescript gray. He carried no weapons, as far as a viewer could see, but you never know. Who is this man? There is a sign over the door of the shop he walked out of. It reads Healer, Specialized In The Magickal Treatmente Of Poisonings, Burns, And Other Ailments.
Milo Steel, Assassin First Class (for of course it is he) took a big breath of air, exhaled, and strode down the street. It was, Milo reflected, a beautiful Qut-Weropian day. Look at the city! The air only slightly smog-filled! The crime rate was at an all-time high! Yes, today was a good day to be in Qut-Werop.
He cheerfully watched as two men passed each other by, the man walking towards Milo skillfully reaching into the other's pocket and withdrawing a few shining coins, the other walking by none the wiser. As the thief passed Milo, our Assassin called out, “Nice haul, Jack!”
The thief turned. “Milo!” he cried. “Nice to see you!” Jack had tried to rob Milo a summer ago, and, once he recovered from the brutal stab wound, the two resolved their problems with each other and become good friends. “Got any new work?” Jack asked with a friendly grin.
“Yes,” Milo replied, “and one that pays five thousand gold as well! I'm off to Organization HQ to accept.”
“Wonderful!” Jack said. “May your fingers be nimble and your profit large.”
“And may your feet be soundless and your blade strike true,” Milo replied with a grin. At this, Jack turned and walked down the street.
“Oh, and Jack?” Milo called after him.
“Yes Milo?” Jack said, turning on the spot.
“Could I please have back the fifty gold you took from my pocket?” Milo asked, his grin still on his face but a dangerous twinkle in his eye.
Jack stopped, reached into his pocket, and threw a bulging bag the size of a fist to Milo, who caught it and placed it inside of his shirt. “It can never hurt to try, eh?” Jack said wryly, the grin not decreasing whatsoever.
Milo shrugged and turned his back on the thief. He strolled along, pausing every once in a while to look at a particularly interesting bar fight, glancing at the golden statue of the current Emperor, Ido the IV, on Noble St, hurrying past Magickal University, which was a disaster waiting to happen during the test season, and in this manner reached Organization HQ.
From the outside, Organization HQ looked like a small house, painted brown, in the square style that was customary in Qut-Werop. (The inside was a subject of much debate among the uninformed.) Milo ambled over to the door and knocked.
The door was opened a full minute later by an old man, wrinkled and bent, wearing a bathrobe.
“Well?” the old man snapped. “What do you want? You’ve disturbed me from my rest, so if you don’t have anything to say, I’m going back to bed.” At this he began to close the door.
“Milo Steel, Assassin Of The Organization, First Class, wishes to accept a job offering delivered to him on the morning of the Third Lastday of the Month of the Dragon, in the 953th year since the founding of the country of Meracia, or the 34th year of the reign of the Glorious Emperor Ido the IV.” Milo took quite a deep breath after that mouthful.
The old man straightened and said, “Of what does this job concern?”
“The assassination of Roland and Alice Juggernaut.” Milo said.
“Do you, Milo Steel, solemnly swear by whatever patron deity, dead family member, or point of honor you wish, to kill Roland and Alice Juggernaut in the fashion the sender of this request asks?” the old man said.
“By the graves of my parents, I swear to this.” Milo replied.
“And if you should fail in any of this, are you aware that the acceptance money you will be given will be returned, as well as a ten percent interest fee from your own pocket, and your reputation as an assassin tarnished?” the old man asked.
“I am.” Milo replied.
“Then may it be known that Milo Steel, Assassin First Class, has accepted the killing of Roland and Alice Juggernaut, and has received two thousand gold in his account for this, and he will receive one-and-a-half times this amount upon completion of said job. May your feet be soundless and your blade strike true.”
With that, the old man shut his door, and Milo strode off, ready to kill the individuals whose lives were worth five thousand gold.
It was four days later, a Funday. But there would be nothing fun about this day for a certain Assassin First Class. Milo tried to rub some feeling into his legs again. It was a living hell for him: he had been trapped in a barrel for the past twelve hours, with nothing to do but rub his aching legs.
The pay was large because the job was hard: the house was covered in Magickal Wards that would set off an alarm and some would summon all kinds of nasty creatures. But through extensive research, Milo had found that his targets were fond lovers of wine, and had barrels of the stuff coming in daily. So with a bribe here and there, Milo found himself delivered straight into the wine cellar.
At midnight, Milo put a silence Magick on the barrel lid and kicked it. It flew off, crashing soundlessly on the ceiling and heading down like a comet. It rolled and bounced on the floor as the aching assassin climbed out of his small prison. He took a few minutes to do some aerobic exercises to limber up, and then crept towards the door.
Putting some oil on the hinges first so he could save his Magick, he slowly opened the silent door just enough for a man to walk through. Milo took some chalk out of his pockets, and Magickally commanded it to draw a circle with a diameter a few inches longer than his height. The chalk slowly moved on the floor, and a minute later Milo had a perfect circle. He then had the chalk draw another circle with a diameter a foot longer outside the first circle, and then personally filled the area in between with various Arcane Symbols that his pocket Practikal Magick for Amateur Magi described. After admiring his work, Milo lay inside the inner circle and started chanting. Once his chant was done, Milo stood up and looked down at his unconscious body. He had completed a successful Astral Projection.
His Astral self walked past the chalk circle, not scuffing the chalk as a real step should have, and strode out the door. He strolled through the path he had memorized from the wine cellar to the master bedroom, noting the subtle Magickal traps that had been set that his Astral self saw as clearly as if they had signs over them declaring where they were hidden. When he reached the hallway outside the master bedroom, he noted the two frog-headed Class Eleven Demons disguised as statues guarding the door. (There are seventeen different classes of Demons, from Class One minor imps to Class Seventeen demons that would give minor gods a run for their money. A C11 may have taken up to eight Magi to summon up. Two of them were no joke: they must have cost a fortune.) Satisfied, Milo slipped back to the room where his body lay prone and into his body.
Now Milo, in the flesh, started his walk to the bedroom, avoiding the traps his Astral self had noticed on his first walk. He paused now and then to put anything expensive and unguarded in a sack he had brought with him for exactly this purpose.
After continuing in this fashion for awhile, he reached the turn in the hallway that led to the master bedroom. A step further and the demons would see him. If he took that step, his options would swiftly become (A) being painfully knocked out and dragged somewhere for questioning or (B) a quick but painful death. Milo preferred (C) eliminating them before he was seen.
Milo took a pouch out of his pocket. Inside of that pouch was silversand: silver chopped so fine that a piece was as small as a grain of sand, and could only be purchased from dwarves or someone who possessed a diamond cheese grater. And, like silver, silversand happens to act like acid against demons.
Milo muttered a few words and a strong Winde suddenly blew down the corridor. Milo opened the pouch and cast its contents into the Winde. He kept up the Winde for a few more seconds, then let it die. When he peeked his head around the bend, there was a good deal of silversand on the floor, and no statues.
Milo then crept up to the door. He tested the doorknob: it turned, already being unlocked. (For who would bother to lock their door with two demons guarding against intruders?) He pushed the door open, and looked into the room. It was clearly the master bedroom: the bed was silk, the cabinets were jade, their contents were probably worth more than the lives of most people (as Milo knew quite well) and, in general, the place reeked of wealth like a drunkard on a spending spree stank of alcohol.
He crept up to the bed, silent as Death himself. He pulled a pair of knives from his wrist sheathes, brought his arms up, and quickly surveyed the couple, searching for their hearts. But his gaze suddenly stopped moving. A child who could be no older than five summers lay nestled between Milo's targets, with a look of peace.
Milo froze. Years flashed by his eyes over the course of moments...
He walked down the corridor to his parents' bedroom. He had had another night terror and was seeking comforting. He opened the door and saw a man leaning over his parents' bed. He was tall and thin, wore gray, possessed shrewd eyes and a beaky nose, and had two large crescent scars along the corners of his mouth, giving him a parody of a gigantic frown.
And the man was holding a bloody knife.
When he caught sight of Milo, the scarred man dived out the window and took off running, but Milo was not aware of this. His sight was blinded by tears, of sadness and rage.
Milo strode away from the bed as he recalled the decisions he had made in his life. He opened the door, and closed it silently. He walked slowly back through the house, and out the front door. Milo continued to walk to his home, away from the house on 232 Phoenix St., where Roland and Alice Juggernaut still slept, their child nestled between them.
The doorknob to Milo's apartment slowly turned. The door opened as Milo Steel, Assassin First Class, tiredly shuffled through the door. He moved to the small kitchen, poured himself a moaning glass of Dead Man's Brandy (they didn't call them spirits for nothing!), sat down at his coffee-stained table, and reflected on what he was doing with his life.
He had wanted revenge on his parents' killer more than anything he had wanted in his life. He had eventually found the killer, who was called The Pessimist due to the scars that looked like a giant frown. He had trained to be a swordsman under Romarlon Tarmin, a master swordsman. When he was seventeen, he had traveled to the Pessimist's manor and challenged him to a duel. Instead of appearing personally, the Pessimist had sent out a champion, who effortlessly trounced Milo and sent him packing. Milo then decided that the path of the assassin was the only way to take his revenge, so he found the Organization and begged to be taught the trade. The Pessimist was found dead a few months later, having taken a nasty fall out of his window, a conclusion quite obvious to the cops who had taken several bags of Milo's coin.
So why am I still doing this? Milo thought to himself. He was suddenly filled with remorse over all the people he had killed for no reason, after he had already taken his vengeance.
Milo stood, knocking back his chair. He knew what he had to do.
“On the first Fishday of the Month of the Phoenix, in the 953th year since the founding of the country of Meracia, or the 29th year of the reign of the glorious Emperor Ido the IV, Milo Steel, Assassin First Class of the Organization, has confessed to all his crimes, and revealed the identities of all other members in this Organization known to him,” the interrogator proclaimed to his scribe. “Let it be recorded so.”
Milo sighed, his work done. All the assassins in the city would be rounded up, and the deadly trade would be practiced in Qut-Werop no more.
“However, the aforementioned assassin has committed multiple counts of murder, punishable by death." the interrogator continued. "His Majesty, the Glorious Emperor Ido the IV himself will decide the sentence.”
The Emperor, sitting atop his ornate throne, nodded. “Let him approach,” the Emperor decreed.
Milo stood from his seat on the hard bench and strode across the courtroom to the Emperor, took a deep bow and kneeled.
The Emperor slowly rose from his throne and put his hand on Milo's shoulder. “Let us walk,” he said, bidding Milo rise and gently directing him toward a corridor leading into a hallway, while the gathered aristocrats muttered at this breach of conduct.
The Emperor had large strides, and Milo struggled to keep up.
“You have done a great service to your country, Steel,” the Emperor noted.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Milo replied.
“If it were up to me, you would receive nearly a full pardon for your crimes,” the Emperor said, “but the law demands that you must face your punishment.”
“I realize this, Your Majesty, and I accept it,” Milo said. “When you embark on a mission of revenge, you must first dig two graves. I have done wrong, and I accept responsibility for my crimes.”
“So be it,” the Emperor said. “Your punishment will be death, but you shall have no shame put on your name, for it will be stricken from the record, and your execution will be at an undisclosed location.”
“On a different subject, while the destruction of the Organization will be a great blow to criminals everywhere,” the Emperor continued, “crime is at an all time high in Qut-Werop. Criminals run rampant with no fear from the City Guard, as it is corrupt from its head to its toes. What the guards need is a competent and loyal commander, one who has a real reason to protect the citizens and clean up the streets.”
The Emperor turned to Milo. “Mortimer Copper, I think you would be the perfect man for the job. I hope you accept. The pay is high, and the benefits are great: good dental and healthcare, as well as avoiding execution.”
Milo (though he would possess that name for not much longer) smiled. “I'd be honored, Your Majesty.”.
Posted by Rebecca Segall at 10:47 PM