"She's a witch!"
"I'm surprised the king hasn't had her killed yet."
"Haven't you heard? She bewitched him with magic!"
"They say she can read your heart too…Magic isn't to be trusted."
"In a time where all creatures had access to magic, there was a maiden who had the power to see into a person's heart. She could see if the people were bad, or wicked, or kind, or loyal. She herself was completely selfless, and smiled at everyone, no matter status or age."
"Alright now." A man with graying hair stood at the head of the long table, leaning over a map. "Here's the plan."
Leo craned his neck to look over the old man's shoulder, glancing at the map curiously. While they were a rather large group, they had a limited amount of people available for such a plan. It was a done plan, but that was only to be expected. Sigmund wasn't their leader's right hand man for nothing. He felt something jab his shoulder and he let out a near silent sigh, looking up irritably. Grinning down at him was a blue eyed brunet, brown hair quite a few shades darker then his own, wearing a black and white checkered mask, one nearly identical to his own. "What, Mark?" Leo hissed. They weren't really supposed to talk during meetings.
Mark shrugged. "Nothing." He whispered back, sounding amused by Leo's irritation. Leo held back the urge to kick him. "I'm just wondering if the leader will show up anytime soon."
Leo frowned, scanning the dark room. The only source of light came from the few candles scattered throughout the room. One was settled in the middle of the table. Scattered around the table were people of various shapes and sizes with weapons ranging from huge axes to tiny knives. Most people wore a mask to prevent future recognition, but some people, the particularly arrogant ones, went without. Leo himself was wearing the exact same checkered mask as Mark, but instead of blue eyes looking out, his own darker eyes peered out. He was also noticeably shorter than his friend, with black hair rather than brown. They were both in a small crowd gathered behind Sigmund, mostly because of lack of chairs. "He's not here. He's probably busy. And he knows the plan already."
"Well, you know the plan too." Mark argued, "You were one of the people who came up with it-" He that last bit too loud for Leo's liking, so he mercilessly stomped on his foot. It was satisfying, but he grimaced when it only caused his friend to yelp out a much louder "Ow!". People outright glared in their direction, including Sigmund. Mark recovered quickly- he'd almost had Leo in a choke hold -and his friend laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "Sorry..."
Sigmund rolled his eyes and turned back to the map, glancing up at the people gathered around. "So, as I was saying before Mark oh-so graciously interrupted me," Leo snickered at this. Mark aimed a kick at his shin, but Leo lifted it before Mark could reach it. Mark shot him a glare, making Leo snigger even more. Ha. "We will all split into different sections of the crowd." Sigmund continued. "Archers will make their ways onto the nearby rooftops, but make sure you stay discreet. We don't want to attract any unnecessary attention."
"Great." Mark muttered, sounding sulky. Leo glanced at his friend. His main weapon was explosives, which, well, were not so discreet. Leo nudged his friend, making him glance up and raise an eyebrow.
"We're going in pairs." Leo whispered. "Sigmund just hasn't mentioned it. Mark's blue eyes lit up at that, his sullen frown turning into his usual grin.
"Really?! I'm paired up with you, right?!" Mark exclaimed, once again too loudly. Heads immediately swiveled their direction, making the brunet wince and wave meekly. "Haha..." Leo held back a groan, slapping his forehead at his friend's idioticness.
"If you two think you are good enough to completely ignore a mission briefing, why don't you explain the plan?" Another person, a woman with long black hair and rather long (and scary) looking fingernails said, angry. She was leaning against her chair like she owned the place...but Leo was one-hundred percent sure he had never seen her before in his life. She was obviously new.
Leo sighed, stepping forward and pretending to look somber and apologetic while Mark slapped a hand over his mouth to stop an onslaught of giggles. He gave Sigmund a glance, who rolled his eyes and nodded him forward. Biting the inside of his mouth to keep himself from laughing out loud, he addressed the woman directly. She looked a bit startled. "Of course, I most deeply apologize for my behavior." He cleared his throat, nodding at the people gather in the room. "We will each be grouped into pairs. I can't remember the pairs at the spot, but I know we are all paired to compliment each others abilities. Archers will be paired with swordsmen on the look out. Thieves will be paired with either long-sword users or archers. All masks will be off during this time, to prevent suspicion. Those stationed in the crowd will be accompanied by at least two people, to prevent death, or capture." He adopted a serious look, looking each person in the group carefully. "There is a high chance that the person doing the actual killing will be captured. Do not risk yourself for your partner if you know there is no hope. Is that clear?"
There were some muttered affirmatives, mostly from the older members of the group, and many startled looks by the new ones. He got that a lot. He was young, and not many people expected someone his age to be so high in the group. It was always fun revealing it to new recruits.
"I thought you said this plan was confidential!" The black haired woman spoke up, seeming to have shook herself out of her shock. "How does a kid know such a thing?!" She directed this at Sigmund, who grimaced at Leo and sighed.
"Leo has been in our group for a very long time..." He said slowly, repeating what he had been saying for years now. "He is a very trusted member."
"How old is he, thirteen or something-?!"
Leo frowned as Mark burst out laughing. "Eighteen, actually-"
"Leo is a very respected member of our group." Sigmund said loudly, cutting both Leo and the woman off. "He himself was present in the creation of the plan, and-"
"A kid made this plan?! What the hell?! No wonder it's such a horrible one; this group is in shambles-"
"Hey!" Mark spoke up loudly, cutting off the woman. "If you want to start a fight, take it outside!"
The woman's eyes narrowed dangerously, eyes taking a rather disturbing light as she clenched the wooden table in a hand, her long fingernails scrapping on it and producing a sound that made everyone in the room wince. Leo noticed an axe-wielding man seated next to her edge away, looking disturbed. "Do you know who I am?" She demanded, glaring at Leo darkly.
Leo mouth moved before he could think out a proper response. "A bitch?" Leo said blandly, earning him a quick kick on the shin from Mark. He glanced up at his friend, who was shaking his head quickly, eyes wide.
"She's that woman in the paper we were looking at." He hissed in Leo's ear. "Remember? She has a bounty of like... a lot."
Leo narrowed his eyes, remembering. They were going through the town paper a couple days ago, laughing at the kingdom's one failure or another when they had stumbled across the picture of the woman. It said that she changed her face often through a type of surgery to avoid from being caught. She hadn't seemed to have changed it from her appearance in the newspaper. "But, I have more... don't I?" He muttered back, referring to his own bounty.
Mark frowned. "Well, yeah, but no one really knows your face..."
"Exactly, I should fight her, and shove it in her bitchy face-"
"But then you'll have a bounty! The actual you! She's another criminal as well, you know, and I bet she knows your name and everything-"
"I can deal with it."
"People will try to kill you while you sleep!"
"We sleep in the same room. You'll look out for me."
"Yeah, but just because I wake up easily doesn't mean I'll know when a freaking trained assassin walks into our room."
"Yes it does."
"...Leo, don't even think about it."
Leo shrugged. "Too late."
Next thing they knew, a sharp knife flew right between them and impaled itself into the wall behind them. Leo glanced up to see that the woman was now standing, arm out stretched from throwing the knife, eyes wide and face flushed with anger. It didn't go well with her delicate features. He grinned. "You missed." He said, making Mark groan in exasperation.
"It was supposed to miss!" She screamed at him, reaching to her belt and pulling out another knife. She threw it, and Leo ducked.
"Careful, you might hit someone."
"Shut UP!" She threw another, and this time, he slid his short sword out of its sheathe and blocked it. Mark cursed, lunging to catch it before it could do any damage.
"TAKE IT OUTSIDE!" Sigmund boomed, making both the woman and Leo freeze. The woman huffed, brushing the sleeves of her dress before she strolled towards the door.
"Of course." She said arrogantly, glancing back and giving Leo a scathing look. "I don't enjoy hurting children, after all." Leo frowned. Wasn't she the one throwing knives a few seconds ago?
Leo took a step forward, but Mark grabbed his arm to prevent him from going any further. He wasn't going to, anyways. He just wanted to make his point. "Your face is coming undone, why don't you go home and fix it?" He snapped, hearing Mark mutter a quiet, but amused 'ouch'.
With one last, "hmph", the woman walking out of the house, slamming the door behind her. Sigmund sighed again, glancing at the dumbstruck looking group of people, some amused, some actually slightly frightened.
"I'm sorry about that...let us move on..." Leo tuned out once more when Sigmund started going more in detail with the plan, glancing up at Mark, who was scowling.
"That was dangerous."
Leo shrugged. "You told me to joke more."
"Yeah, but you know, in less deadly situations! I didn't mean joke yourself to your grave!"
He shrugged. "It's alright now. You have to admit, you wanted her out too."
Mark grimaced, scratching his neck. "Well...yes...but that's not the point." He said quickly.
"I could have beat her easily, anyways."
"It's not healthy to challenge people you only know from wanted posters..."
"It's not like we don't do it anyways." When Mark gave him an exasperated look, Leo sighed. "Look, don't worry. If she really wanted to be here, she wouldn't have left so suddenly. I doubt it'll affect the operation."
Mark shook his head. "It's not the operation I'm worried about, it's you. Death is permanent."
"Idiot. I know that."
"Of course you do." Mark muttered, glancing up at Sigmund again. After a moment, he sighed, grinning at Leo again. "She really was a bitch though."
"Alright!" Sigmund said apparently, straightening up. Leo and Mark both stood at attention for this. "So. Is everyone clear?"
There was a scatter of affirmatives and nods. "Good. Dismissed."
"Hey, Mark." Leo muttered. They had retired to their room after the mission briefing since there was nothing to do. Their room was a simple thing. Just two beds on opposite sides of the room and dresser per person. Mark wasn't exactly the most...organized person, so, various clothes were scattered on his side of the room. He claimed that assassins would have harder time navigating to kill them, but Leo highly doubted it. Also, mostly on Mark's side, there were various places on the wooden walls that had obviously been on fire at one point in time, and was practically covered in black burns. Leo had pulled his mask off, still holding it in his hand limply and Mark had threw his somewhere on the floor with the rest of his clothes.
Mark was kind of a...lady's man, complete with a pretty face. When they went to the marketplaces mask-less, Leo was pretty sure at least one girl was always looking. His friend was scarred though, with one down the side of his right cheek and various healed burns over his arms. Leo was the same, but his scars were mostly on his torso and arms.
Mark glanced up from his spot on his bed. They were both lying on their respective beds, Leo absently playing with his mask, staring at the ceiling and Mark doing...something. Leo glanced over to see his friend tinkering with one of his bombs again. That meant explosions. Great. "What?" His friend asked, glancing up.
Leo shrugged, staring at his mask. Their checkered masks were identical. He didn't particularly like wearing masks, but, hey, it kept him alive so far. "...Do you remember the last time the king was chosen?"
Mark blinked, glancing at Leo. "Um..." He frowned. "Er..." He lifted a hand and scratched his head, only managing to leave a streak of something black on his hair. Smart. "A little, I think."
"What was it like?"
"Why do you want to know?" Mark asked, looking at Leo curiously. "You've already read all about it, right?"
Leo nodded. "Yeah…" What he had read sounded so…stupid though. "Just an orb that shoots out a beam of light? Powered by moonlight?"
"Well, that's the extremely cut down version." Mark shifted, turning to his side. "Have you never heard the legend? As in, the fairy tale version?"
"…No, just the scientific theories…they didn't sound all that great."
"What?! You don't know the story?!" Mark pushed himself up, propping himself with one arm to stare at Leo with wide eyes. He remember that look. It was the one his friend gave him whenever Leo told him about a childhood experience he'd missed. The half-made bomb was sitting under Mark's hand on the bed rather dangerously. Leo eyed it cautiously.
"Careful..." He warned. "You don't want to set the place of fire again..."
"Huh?" Mark looked down at the thing in his hand. He laughed, taking his weight off of it and holding it up. "Oh, don't worry it's not active." He hopped off his bed and walked over to their shared desk, that was littered with various papers and beakers. Mark's bomb making powders sat in various vials that were surprisingly neat compared to the rest of the room. Leo figured it was because mixing that stuff had deadly consequences. Mark grabbed a chair, dragging it next to Leo bed and sat on it backwards, straddling it and leaning his forearms on the back rest.
"What?" Leo said dryly, rolling his eyes as Mark grinned earnestly. "Don't tell me. Story time?"
"Story time!" Mark agreed enthusiastically. "I'm surprised you haven't heard of this one."
Leo couldn't remember much about his childhood. "I think we're a bit too old to be listening to children stories." When they were younger, Mark had earnestly filled Leo in with everything childhood and fun, including bedtime stories Mark's parents had told him.
"Aw. But it's been forever!" Mark leaned forward, still grinning widely. "Come on, how about it?" Leo rolled his eyes, propping his back against his bed's headboard.
Leo faked a grimace. "Alright. I think I can deal with it."
Mark ignored the quip. "Right. So once upon a time, in a magical land far, far away…actually, I'm pretty sure it's supposed to take place in this kingdom-"
"So it's a magical children's story?" Leo interrupted. "We're a bit too old to believe magic, aren't we?"
"Shut up and let me finish the story." Mark shot back. Leo shut up and Mark nodded approvingly and after a few false starts, told the story of the maiden, the corrupt king, and the kind dragon...
After Mark finished, they were both silent for a moment. Leo, who had closed his eyes to listen, opened them slowly, blinking a little bit in surprise. He glanced over at his friend, who stared at his expectantly. Leo raised an eyebrow. "...Is that really a children's story?" He finally said, skeptical. It had a bit too much angst to be meant for kids.
"Yep!" Mark said cheerfully. "I gave you the uncensored version though. In the kiddy one, the maiden," He cleared his throat, giving his voice took a high pitched tone like a little kid's. "The maiden comes back to life with her magical powers, and they live happily ever after!" His voice went back to normal. "Unless you like that ending better, don't complain."
"...Alright then." Leo leaned back on the bed to stare at the ceiling again. It had everything a typical fairy tale had. Love, magic, an evil king. Typical. "That was kind of lame."
Mark head snapped up to shoot him a glare. "What! Why?"
He rolled his eyes. "Magic's one thing. And really, a girl and a dragon? Together? How disturbing is that?"
Mark scowled. "They weren't together you dirty minded ass, and the dragon can turn human." Leo shot his friend a unconvinced look and Mark threw his arms in the air, exasperated. "Well, they're all dead now, so it doesn't really matter. And there's nothing wrong with magic. If it wasn't so great, then what's the orb then?"
The magical orb that contained the maiden's magic itself...the power to see hearts.
"Well..." Leo shrugged. Personally, he thought it was some kind of hoax. But… "Theorist believe that it has something to do with the angle of the sun and-"
Mark cut Leo off with groaned, slapping his forehead in exasperation. "But it's a freaking orb that send out a freaking arc of light that hits a person that just so happens to be a great king!"
"They weren't all that great..."
"It's magic!" Mark insisted.
Leo grimaced, deciding not to say anything. He focused his attention back to the ceiling.
"Aw come on, don't act like a kid."
"Who's the one putting their trust in magic?" Leo muttered, fiddling with his mask. "In that case," Leo sat up, glancing at his friend. "Why are we killing the next king?"
This was a topic they both steered clear from. As close friends they were, Leo really didn't know how Mark felt about the Organization. But sometimes, he could see that flash of anger, that glimpse of reluctance and that quick look of disgust. They all seemed to be directed to the Organization itself. Just then, Leo could see a flash of something…maybe hesitance? "Because the leader said so, idiot." Mark said in his usual playful tone, and Leo couldn't tell whether it was real or fake.
It was becoming more frequent, these days.
"Yeah, but why?" Leo rolled around onto his stomach, staring at Mark intensely. He really didn't like being lied to.
"Well, the leader is the one that should be king, right?" Mark shrugged. "Even if the kings are decent, they wouldn't be able to do it half as well as the leader. I mean, we ended up here." Was that a hint of sarcasm?
Leo didn't reply. Mark's parents had been murdered when he was ten. He still had memories of them. Leo couldn't remember anything from his childhood; only thoughts and feelings that he couldn't decipher. Leo had been with the group much longer than Mark, and had But, that also meant Leo knew the leader more personally. To most members, he seemed very lighthearted and happy... but, really, he wasn't.
"I don't know." Part of the plan to kill the next chosen king was his own. But no matter what way you looked at it, it was a suicide mission for the killer. Leo was confident in his own abilities to kill and get away, and Mark was the master of distractions, but it was two of them versus a huge crowd of people, even bigger than the one at the funeral...
He just hoped the two of them would get out of it alive.
Just in case you guys didn't figure it out, that's Mark speaking up at the top there after that first line break.
Thank you so much for the reviews and follows! Sorry if you got any double notifications, I deleted it by mistake, haha. Thank you (5eva) to Flocci for beta reading and giving feedback in general! Please review!