A Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon story
by Dro'gan NiteFlier
Disclaimer: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon belongs to Takeuchi Naoko, Koudansha, TV Asahi, and Toei Douga, and DIC, and I would be a supreme idiot for claiming it or any of its affiliated characters.
My life was not an easy one. What could under different circumstances be called my childhood was a scramble for survival, with no room for anything but water, food, and shelter; sometimes skipping one or another when I could not beg, borrow, or steal it. The fact that I was small and looked Asian didn't help much.
Whoever my mother was, she left me in the "care" of what would become my greatest enemy growing up: the Seattle Thieves Guild. Some would scoff at the thought of any such organization, but in truth it was "organized" only in the fact that it was a place to fence goods and gave a place to hide whenever the police couldn't be bribed anymore, or were forced to make an excursion into the dark slums by federal officials.
I was one of many children loosely attached to "Mama Mushaka's", a seedy underground inn/bar that serviced the local contingent of thieves, and gave them a place to spend their recently stolen cash. The waitresses at Mushaka's doubled as whores anytime one of the customers coughed up the cash to Mama, and depending on how much you paid, you could even get one of the rooms in back to use for the occasion. If you didn't, you were stuck with a "girl" — the term could only be applied very loosely to them — who wouldn't leave Mushaka's front door. With the great sense of modesty most of them possessed, they usually received the goods they'd paid for right there in the bar room, to the rude comments and gestures of other patrons.
I was smart. I knew that if I stayed around long enough, I would be one of those females (you couldn't even give them a better name); usually drugged out of my acute mind and never caring about what new disease I'd contracted. I never stayed around Mushaka's longer than I had to.
Unfortunately, Mama had a use for those children "attached" to her care. Whenever you worked for Mama, you always got a bit of soup and a (somewhat) dry place to sleep when you were done working. To get those, however, you had to work the entire eighteen-hour day that Mushaka's bar was open, and any that slacked even a little were thrown out until Mama's anger had receded.
Those few who didn't take up Mama's offer had to find our own water, food, and shelter.
I scrounged from the time I was two — as far back as I can remember — until I was five. Then I stole, and only went back to Mushaka's when the weather was too rainy for anything but those with the most pressing business.
When I was seven years old, there was a particularly bad stretch of weather that forced every child that was affixed to Mushaka's to go to work for Mama. We were given the menial jobs: scrubbing dishes, getting and serving orders when the waitresses were "busy", and the most frightening, taking food or other things to the private rooms that the inn let out for anywhere from an hour to years on end. That week alone, fifteen children were sent with items for the private rooms and were not seen again.
Again, I was smart enough not to be around when one of those orders came in.
It was during that week that I caught my first look at an assassin.
You could tell when he came in, for the entire room was silenced in a matter of moments. I was out serving tables, and looked to the door to see a short, dark, bulky man step forward to the bar counter. He spoke a few words with Mama, then turned and went back to the private rooms. After he was gone, conversation started up again, quietly. As I set my burden down on the greasy table that was its destination, I listened in on the discussion going on there.
The younger one, obviously new to the town, was commenting on the stranger when his older companion shushed him. "Don't you go thinkin' that that weren't nobody important, now. That was Crow, one a' th' 'sassins from 'Francisco. 'E comes up here 'casionaly to talk with Black."
"Black?" asked the younger.
"He's the 'ssassin for this town, and surroundin'. He's said to be the best inna North America, 'swell." The elder, a con man from the countryside, swelled with a bit of borrowed pride. "'E rents out a room back there, or 'lse 's got some passageway to 'is rooms somewheres. But lemme tell ya, when you see Black, you know its Black, and you damn well do what 'e tells ya!"
This information I kept well to heart, and even though I had my ears boxed for taking so long with the order, I wouldn't have traded it for the world. Over the next year I learned more bits about assassins in general and Black in particular.
Assassins, it seems, have the organization and base of operations people think of when the words "Organized Crime" come out. They had a center with the registers of all the assassins in the world in some European country, but their main base in North America was in Quebec. The assassins were careful about where they lived, as well, learning from their guild about where others of their kind were located, and there was not any one assassin that could — or would — poach on another's ground unless permission was granted.
The only assassin in the greater area of Washington State was Black.
Black kept to himself, mostly. You occasionally heard from the newspapers or local talk about an unsolved murder where no one could have even gotten in to get to the victim. Sometimes he would order some package or other, and when it arrived on Mushaka's front step, Mama sent someone back with it to his lair, deep within the inn. No one in recent memory had even seen Black, but all knew, or thought they knew, what he looked like.
I spent over a year in Mushaka's, for nothing other than the information I received from the patrons. It wasn't just Black and the assassin's league, but anything. Once my curiosity had been ignited, there was nothing I would not remember, so long as it was odd or useful to my mind. I sometimes spent days in the more prosperous sectors of the slums, or in the city parks just to listen to people talk of strange subjects. By the time my sojourn as a server for Mama ended, I had amassed quite a knowledge base for almost any field of study.
But when I was eight, my world as I knew it was turned inside out.
It had been one of those days that there had been nothing in particular to do, and as such most of the children had run off away from Mushaka's. When Mama found only myself left, wiping off the last dregs of sleep, she immediately pounced on me and took me to the kitchens to work. On days like this, the waitresses were even more "busy" than usual, so Mama put me to work at once.
A few of the littler children came back during the day but I ran tables most of the time while the official waitresses were being casually, and to their minds, unknowing, raped. But one by one a few of the more well-to-do customers took up the offer of a more private room, away from the jeering of their comrades. Sometime during the peak hours of nine and ten, I found myself, at somewhere near eight and a half years of age, to be the oldest female besides Mama in the bar room.
It was not until I actually looked up from the floor at the face of the customer, and saw the lust kindling there, did I realize the predicament that I was in. I hurried back to the kitchen, but as I passed Mama, I saw her with a gleam in her eyes that told me that she was already gauging the worth of one young virgin in the filthy money that the thieves brought to her tavern.
I would have run, truly. But where was there to run to? Even for all the cruelty I had experienced there, Mama Mushaka's was the only home I knew of. When I entered the kitchen in a daze, the cook brusquely took the dirty plates from me and gave me new bowl of soup to take to one of the tables and shoved me out of the kitchen into a room filled with the stares of men wondering if they had enough to purchase the maidenhood of the girl that they now realized was a girl.
I sped to the table designated by Mama, but only on arrival did I realize that she was attempting to curry favor by giving one of the older thieves in the bar first chance at what every man in the place now wanted. I quickly dislodged the bowls from the serving platter that I used to carry them an attempted to sprint back to the kitchen, but a gnarled had caught my arm and I looked up into a face that was more wrinkles than skin.
A gross smile showed that there were precious few teeth left in the old bandit's mouth. There was only one thing he could want from me now. There were a few jeers from those that had lusted, but lost, as some wondered aloud if they could have second or third shots at me. As his old but superior strength dragged me closer to him despite my struggles, I knew that today would be the end of life as I knew it. More than I knew then, I was right.
The single, simple command sounded as if it was a beautiful phrase of wit from Shakespeare, or a melodious but stirring observation of life by Frost.
It brought the entire room to a complete and total standstill.
My face merely inches from the distorted lips of my would-be rapist, I could not even begin to see where the person who had spoken the word was.
Who it was, I already knew.
The old con man that'd told of Black to his young companion that faraway year and some ago had one thing straight. You knew Black when you heard or saw him.
There was no sound as Black crossed the floor, yet he must have, for he was suddenly by my side, and out of the corner of my eye, I reaffirmed that this was, indeed, one of the greatest assassins of all time.
He stood six feet tall, with brown, bordering on blond, hair, with an unassuming face and startling sky blue eyes that caught everything in their grasp. He was wearing loose, black shirt and pants, with soft leather boots on his feet. I knew from the way he stood that he had to have at least half a dozen weapons scattered around his person.
He looked intently at me and into my eyes, then said, "Let go."
The old codger who thought he had bought me released me and scrambled back so fast it seemed as if he left friction burns on my arm and the floor.
Black once again looked me up and down, studying me. For the first time ever, I was ashamed at how I appeared. I was short for my age, and dressed in dirty and torn shirt and pants found in a dumpster. I could only remember having two baths in my entire life, the last more that four years ago. My skin and hair was darkened to seem almost black, and only my clear, aquamarine eyes, that had held his interest so intensely, were clean. I had seen, when I looked back into his eyes, a spark of desire, and something else that I had never seen before. I felt like the filthiest thing on the earth next to him, clean and fresh, and smelling just a bit like cinnamon.
Just the one word, and he turned on his heel and walked towards the entrance into the deeper bowels of the inn.
What could I do but follow?
He led the way though winding passages, and for the first time a got a feel for how large Mama Mushaka's must really be. Or was it some network of inns and hostels linked together in some convoluted underground web?
Eventually we came into an area that was fresh and clean, with wood paneling on the walls and floor, instead of the bare cement that Mushaka's presented. Black turned down a dead end corridor and went to the end wall. He turned to me.
He manipulated a slight crack in the corner of the wall, and it opened up into a circular stair. He began to ascend, and I followed him. But for the first time, I began to think my initial impression of his desire was mistaken. You did not show a whore how to enter your lair; you had to force them there. Though now I realized that he truly had not forced me anywhere. Could I, at any time, have turned around and gone back to Mushaka's? Or maybe even better, to go down one of the side passages and find another exit to this maze. It occurred to me then, that that could have been why some children did not return from their missions in to this web of corridors. I had, of course, taken notes on where we were going and which turnings we took, but could one of the others remember such directions? I shuddered to think that somewhere down here were the rotting corpses of those children lost in the dark.
We continued to climb for some time, and I wondered how far up we were. Surely by now we had come at least some two or three stories above ground?
Black suddenly stopped again, and this time pointed to a small mark on the center column that supported the stairway. He then went to the outer wall and shifted the paneling once more. A small crack opened a stair above him, and he opened it to reveal a well-appointed room. He entered, and I softly followed him.
Unfortunately, I did not have time to appreciate the furnishings other than to note the wide, open windows on the opposite wall, gaping out to the moonlit, tumulus sea.
Mushaka's is more than five miles inland. Had we truly passed that much distance? To my weary feet, it did not feel like it, but they had been in use all day, ferrying bowls of sour soup and mugs of stale beer to dirty thieves. Who could blame them for just a few miles more?
Black walked quickly to the door to the left, and I had bare time to notice another to the right in my confusion of distances when we entered yet another room, this one quite obviously a bedroom, even though I had never seen such before.
Again, I quailed with the thought that Black wanted from me the same that the men in the bar had wanted, but he kept walking to yet another door, in the far wall. When we entered, I again stepped into a room the likes of which I had only heard and dreamed of.
An entire room, just for bathing!
I noticed a water closet off to the side, glazed windows seaward, and a large, recessed bath tub that was big enough for to adults to casually recline in. a sink off to the side by the water closet, and a few towel racks finished the adornment, but everything was intricately laid with patters and designs that wrested my attention away from Black and the general state of affairs.
When finally my concentration broadened to include Black again, he spoke something that once again revived my restless fears.
At this command, my brain rebelled. Scarecrow thin arms wrapped around nonexistent breasts as I fought my body's overwhelming appeal to follow the commands of one that gave them so well.
"No," I said.
For the first time, Black smiled. "Good. You have your limits. However, you need not worry for your safety in any form. It is merely my wish that those who reside in my household to be clean and neat, and that they wear their clothes cleanly and neatly."
"You will bathe and clean yourself thoroughly, and you will wear the clothes I will set out for you." With that, he exited the bathroom, and left me there with my mind in tumult.
"Those who reside in his household?" I repeated blankly.
During a half-hour in the bath, which was necessary to remove the ingrained dirt and muck of four years from my hair and skin, my mind worked out various scenarios of what was going on. My first impression, and still the most likeliest, was that he wanted a full-time whore, one that was on call whenever was necessary.
That was dismissed, however, by the words "you need not worry for your safety". Impinging on my most private physical places was a definite breach of safety to my mind. A housekeeper then? One who could clean and cook for him perhaps? This was far-fetched, for the rooms that I had seen so far were as clean as could be. Too, although I was quick and dexterous, necessary for bringing orders to table with speed, I was no cook. I couldn't even show myself around a kitchen, for all the time I had spent in Mushaka's kitchen was return and about face, or washing and scrubbing bowls and plates.
What did Black intend me to be then? And why had there been that glimmer of desire and something else when I had looked into his eyes?
As my luxurious time in the bathtub drew to a close, I had not come to any definite conclusion on my purpose in Black's "Household".
I dried myself, and exited the bathroom to the bedroom, to find Black waiting by the bed, with new, clean clothes laid in precision on the soft coverlets of the bed. He nodded towards the clothes.
As he showed no signs of leaving, and this time clearly expected me to follow orders, I had no choice but to drop the towel from around myself and dress in the items that had been laid out. I had a bit of trouble with the first piece on top, for I had never seen anything like it before, but then I remembered something that I had seen a few years ago in a store window in the better parts of the suburbs.
Panties. What an interesting concept.
After that snug (and most definitely intimate!) first piece, it was followed by soft, sable pants and a shirt and undershirt of the same material. After black socks, I found two pairs of shoes on the floor at the end of the bed. Two pairs! For someone who had never had even a single shoe, two pairs!
There was a pair of small shoes, probably for indoor or light use, and a set of boots that seemed just to be a smaller version of Black's own.
Come to think of it, all the clothes that he showed could just be larger versions of what I wore. I wondered absently if he had just gotten all of his clothes in a smaller size and given them to me. Funny that, the panties just seemed a bit too tight for male anatomy.
I put on the indoor shoes and waited for Black's approval. Or some sort of emotion at least. Excepting only the one smile, Black's face was as stoic as the faces of Mt. Rushmore, never wavering from that grim line.
He nodded once again, then cocked his head to the side, as if considering something. He pointed to one of the walls, and for the first time I took in my surroundings. The room was sparsely furnished, with a twin bed, dresser drawers, a desk, and a small closet. There was also a wall mirror to the side of the bed. It was this that he was pointing to.
I stepped in front of the mirror, and froze in shock.
My hair, cut short for necessity, had regained its true color, and looked soft as down. My skin had lightened to a pale cream, and the clothes Black had given me fit perfectly. I realized then that he must have been planning this for some time. The only question now was, what was he planning?
I turned to face him again and he nodded once more. He exited the room, and I followed. The main room, as well was not ostentatiously decorated, instead it took a much subtler appeal. The chairs were mostly clustered around an unlit fireplace near the stair door, and I could see a fourth door recessed to the opposite side of the stair. The door across from the room we had exited was closed. By the open bay windows, was a table laid out for two, with covered platters in the middle.
I followed him over to the table, and sat opposite of him. Black gestured to the plates and uncovered one of them to reveal a salad. He obviously intended to feed me before getting down to business.
The salad, and the food following, was delightful and filling. Because I had only lived on scraps and Mama's bounty before this, I could not eat as much as Black did. I wanted to, though.
After we were done eating he sat back and looked out the windows to the ocean. I waited, still wondering what he wanted from me.
Black looked back at me and nodded in his way again. "What are you thinking?"
I pondered my answer for a moment. "I am wondering what purpose you requisitioned me for, sir."
"And that is all?"
I realized that my answer, while accurate, did not have depth. "You came to save me at a time when I could do nothing to save myself. You have led me to your home and shown me the way to enter it. You have given me a chance to be clean plus clothes and food. All this at no apparent cost to yourself." I hesitated. "A first I thought that you wanted me for the same purpose as they did, but you promised not to harm me. Then I thought that you might want me for something else, like a maid or a cook. But these rooms are clean, and the food obviously prepared better than I could ever do. Which leaves me wondering: what do you want me for, to spend so much time on me?"
For the second time, Black smiled, and I felt as if I had given the correct answer this time. "Do you want the long term, or the short term answer?"
I stopped. Long term? "I think, for now, the short term, sir."
He nodded again. "I want you to become my apprentice."
Did I hear him wrongly? Apprentice? He would make me one of those mysterious creatures that held sway over life and death for any they came in contact with?
My mind reeling, my mouth got off a question. "Why? Why me?"
Black nodded once again. "Because I have had my eyes on you for quite some time. Because you have passed every test I put before you." He paused, and I got the feeling that he was fighting a smile from appearing on his face. "Because you have your limits. But I intend to broaden them."
I hesitated, organizing my mind. "What would happen if I refused?"
Black sighed. "Then I would place you in the care of a foster family of my choice, and make sure that none that you have known could ever find you again."
I blinked, confused. "Why do this for me? Either option, your apprentice or a f-f —" I stopped. A family? Truly? "Why?" I said past the tears that threatened to fall.
He leaned forward. "Listen to yourself. Listen to how you speak. Your vocabulary, grammar, and diction surpass a good percentage of educated adults. All you have had going for you is your beautiful, dynamic mind." He reached out and tapped my forehead. "Even if you decide not to stay with me, I will not see such a deserving mind let waste by drugs and brutality." He smiled slightly. "That is why I had to act before I was completely ready."
I thought back to the scene at Mushaka's. "You didn't want me to be…"
His eyes narrowed, and he spoke harshly, as if remembering something. "A thing such as that will kill a youthful mind quicker than any drug. To have let that happen would have been catastrophic."
We sat in silence for a while, the waves breaking on the shoreline seeming distant and muted.
Finally, I spoke. "Debts." Black refocused his attention on me. "There are debts owed to me, and a debt I owe to you. I… I want to repay those debts." I hesitated. My entire future rested on these few words. "I will become your apprentice."
He grinned then, his mood much brighter then a few moments before. He picked up his glass and gestured for me to do the same. Confused, I did so, and we clinked glasses together. He then said something that reflected somewhere in me.
"For the safety of the world."
Over the next few weeks I learned what it meant to be apprenticed to Black. Stretching exercises in the morning, running up and down the shoreline for hours, lifting small weights in certain ways to train muscles that I didn't even know that I had. All before lunch.
After a bath and lunch, we went on to more cerebral pursuits. I knew how to read, barely, but by the first month was done, I was going through college level textbooks with ease. After two hours of reading educational materials, Black and I would sit down and discus what I had read, and go farther along than what the text showed. From time to time, Black would point out incorrect information, and I would endeavor to keep it all straight. It was after supper, however, that what I considered my true training began.
During my first few days, Black would produce a set of weapons and name them, tell of their primary uses, and give a demonstration of how they were wielded. But he would always, always stress that anything could be used as a weapon, from a simple Frisbee, to an old lady's walking cane. I simply had to find out what their correct use was and how to wield them.
After Black had shown me many of the weapons I could employ, he began to teach me how to wield them myself. We went from war fans to high-magnification sniper rifles. One of the things he also showed me at this time was how to use each weapon to defend. The chance that one might be caught was too great not to.
After we were through with learning weapons, I was well into my ninth year of life, and no longer studied textbooks, but avidly persuaded documents and booklets of newly formulated theories and wild discoveries of science.
One of the things that was also part of my training that first year and onwards was exposure. We went outdoors, and into the city, to the movies, and to parks and malls. That was probably the most eye-opening thing of all. Where before there had only been the hungry children, the angry women, the drugged-up whores, and the filthy thieves, now I saw that there was so many more people in the world. Even my brief looks on onto the more prosperous sectors of the slums had not allowed me to take this in.
We ate out occasionally, but most of the time Black cooked for us in the small kitchen beside the stairwell. We cleaned up the common room together, and both he and I took care of our own rooms. I kept the beautiful bedroom and bath that I had initially become aquatinted with, but never, ever saw into his rooms, the entrance of which, across from mine, remained forever closed.
Eventually he taught me a burglar's skills, breaking and entering quietly, and stealing away without being noticed. This helped me in our little games of hide and seek through the corridors at the bottom of the stairwell. I learned every entrance and exit to those passages and kept a map of their many levels ingrained in my memory.
When I was ten he took me with him for the first time on an assignment. Two months later, I made my first kill under his supervision.
By the time I was firmly eleven, I was making as many kills as he was, and often finding better ways in and out. That surprised me; I thought that with all the experience that Black possessed, he would be up on me every time.
It was after one particularly spectacular escape that I learned of the true power of the Assassins.
Black explained it very calmly and carefully, as if expecting that the knowledge that some sort of force that played by its own physics would shatter me. I knew better, however. There were things in the world of assassins that could only be explained by such a force as magic, and the formal acknowledgment of its existence merely filled the gaps in answers that were never truly satisfactory.
I learned that Black himself controlled the currents of energy, he could shift the flow of electricity from a machine without touching any physical switch, or siphon off heat from a material to make an inexpensive superconductor. One of his most awesome uses for his energy was to create a point of pure energy, then send that point to explode at certain place. The result, with even just a little power behind it, was enough to cause quite a disturbance among those who knew no better. He only showed me this once.
My own magic, I was convinced, went more to the area of divination. As I flexed my magic, I found that I could see actions of people distant, or to know the history of a certain object or person. There was only one exception to my casting, and it was one that chafed me more than anything.
I could never find out anything about myself.
My clothes, my weapons, everything I focused on near me was susceptible to my quest for knowledge. Only I was a total blank spot. It hurt, too, for I never knew my true birthday, only had an approximation of the time of year. I could not find out about my true family, or what caused them to abandon me. The one thing that hurt the worst was not having a name.
My memory, as far back as I can reach, has never given me a name. As a child in Mushaka's, we were gathered together and given tasks as a group, or singled out by a pointed finger. We were never given names, because there was no reason to give us names. Occasionally, one of us would create a name for himself, but it would be lost and forgotten inside of a week.
When I first came to live with Black, I thought he would give me a name. When I asked him about it, he merely told me something that I knew then, even without knowing of my magic, was true.
"Give you a name?" he asked in disbelief.
"Yes," I answered.
He grunted and set down the book he had been reading. "Listen to me, my protégé. The majority of people in this world have their names given to them. They are usually free to change their names at will, yet that first name always follows them to their deaths. Assassins have an advantage to that, for when they become a part of the guild as apprentices, they cast off their old name, and choose a name for themselves. That name is one that shall live forever onward, no matter what false names are put forth to complete an assignment." He paused to drive home the point. "Choose your own name carefully, young one. It shall outlive you by far."
It was then that I started researching names, flowery names, bold names, al sorts, but none appealed to me. When I learned of magic, I was able to narrow my field of search greatly, but still came up lacking. Black suggested that I look to the Greco-Roman pantheon for a name. I looked and looked through the gods and goddesses of the ancients, but the diviners that I found did not fit me.
Apollo and his Oracle at Delphi were not the sort that I had been looking for. Tirecias the seer conveyed the image of old, decrepit men, as I remembered the old thief that Black had stolen me away from to be. Hecate was a possibility, but her involvement with witches dissuaded me. Cassandra was just misunderstood all around.
It finally occurred to me that if I stretched the definition just a bit, that perhaps seeing my magic as giving the information to convey, as I had to Black during one of the assignments I was on with him, I had a name. But it, too, dissatisfied me. It was far, far too masculine for my tastes, and I wanted something big, like on a planetary scale. I looked at my tables of Greek deities, and made a minor switch to the Roman side.
Finally. I have a name, one of my own true choosing.
I am Mercury. And I am here to stay.
I did not let Black know of my name when I had chosen it, but I could tell he knew all the same that I had found one. I wanted to present my name, however, with an accomplishment. Black gave me that chance soon afterward.
When I was twelve, I went on my first solo.
It was supposed to be a quiet assignment, comparatively. Get in, get out, with only one person in the house.
Why do things that are supposed to be quiet never turn out such?
The target, a senator that spent too much government funds for his private parties, was throwing one of said parties when I found him. The small orgy that was taking place around him was slick with alcohol, yet I knew that I could not kill him without it being immediately noticed, if only by the two women he was currently involved with. My only choice, then was to eliminate all those who could possibly notice his death in the near future.
The small bottle of vaporous poison spread its contents quite well, and I was well away before any on the outside of the area of effects notice that their dear host and his pets were just a bit too still.
That is when things truly went downhill.
Slipping through the darkened corridors, I easily avoided the guards that patrolled the mansion. But when the alarms sounded, the lights came blaring on. Any and every light in the mansion had been turned to max, leaving not so much as a puddle of shadow to hide in.
With my black, formfitting clothes, this was very bad.
I was spotted twice, and twice rid myself of unassuming pursuers. Neither of my late would-be attackers had sounded the general alert to their area, so I was able to escape to the small dock by the bay that the mansion boasted. Once there, however, I found that it was crawling with guards, and the craft that I had used to enter unto the grounds had been found.
The good news, is that I am a very good swimmer.
Somehow during my training, despite never having set foot in any body of water deeper than a puddle, I quickly picked up the wonderful motion of swimming. Sometimes during my free time, I would go down to the ocean and swim, never mind what season it was or how cold the water. For the colder the water was, the more I loved swimming in it.
At the time of this assassination, it was deep winter, and icebergs had been spotted in shipping lanes just to the north of the border. All the more fun for me.
I dived in, and knowing immediately where to go, I deigned not to surface until I had reached a small pier just a little to the south of Black and my residence.
He was waiting for me, and gave me a hand up to the dock. When I finally breathed again, I found myself calmly disgorging water from my lungs, as if it were the most common thing in the world. No choking, no rapid breaths after my lungs were filled with air again. I checked over the time that I had been underwater. It had to have been over an hour, without thought that I had not come up for air.
Black sat next to me on the pier, and I shivered and leaned into his shoulder. I have never truly been cold in my life, for I have always been comfortable at temperatures that would send other bundling up in coats and hats, but now I felt as if something was truly wrong with me, that I had suddenly become an amphibian.
"What is wrong with me?" I cried into his shoulder.
"Nothing." Said he, "For it is merely a different branch of your magic. Did you think that by me only having one, that limited the world to just one per person? You have a duality. Knowledge and…" here he trailed off a bit. "…cold and water makes… ice. Divination and Ice." When I told him my name Black chuckled. It was something that I had grown used to, though it would have startled me early in our acquaintance. "Mercury was said to be a bit cold to those he disliked. Maybe that was why he was a trickster."
After a time we returned to our home, and went on with our lives. Black told me of the account that he had set up for me, and that the funds from my first unaided assignment had been added to it. He then taught me the practical side of being an Assassin, how to get your target, and your money.
For a time we worked independently, myself gaining strength and knowledge from my solo expeditions, and Black getting a time of reprieve from the business of death.
It was shortly after my first solo, which I personally thought ended in disaster, That Black took me with him on a peculiar assignment.
Unlike all previous times he had taken me with him, this time he did not tell me anything about the assignment until we were safely ensconced high in the upper deck of a ballroom. From here we had an unparalleled view of the long room, and its servants finishing setting up a party.
"This is the residence of Michael Holt, a wealthy man who does do some "gray" dealings, but for the most part abstains. His family owns a logging company in the Rockies." Black informed me.
I thought about this. "He's not the target."
Black shook his head. "Correct. In a sense."
I perked up. "In a sense?"
Black half-smiled. "Yes. You see, he's not our target." Black then gestured for me to watch the incoming guests. I soon spotted Holt, and used a bit of my magic to see what was up.
I seemed that it was Holt himself, through one of his less than savory friends, which had employed us. At first this startled me. Did he want us to kill one of his guests? But then I looked a bit deeper in to his request of us.
Holt had learned that a cult of tree-huggers, obsessed with saving "Nature's pure form", had gone to a young Assassin and employed his services. It had been directly after that that he had employed Black in keeping him safe.
I blinked, astonished. "We're here to keep someone from getting killed?"
Black nodded again. "Don't think that just because you deal in death, that you cannot also deal in life. The best thing to stop an assassin is nothing but another assassin. But that's not too much to worry about now. I was unable to find out from the Guild who was commissioned to kill him. You'd best get back to finding that person."
I nodded, and with a swift look at the rifle in Black's lap, continued to lightly "Scan" the crowds, looking not for information, but a general feeling. I had found, when looking at Black when I was with him on an assignment, that he exudes a certain feeling of death. I now looked for this signature in the now crowded ballroom. I had not concerned myself with the guests after I went over them once; after all, this was an invitation only party. The musicians, servants, and other employed persons, however, were whom I was chiefly concerned with. I knew through personal experience how easy it was to insinuate myself into the workers of such a gathering as this.
Finally, near the end of the gala, I saw a servitor enter a small alcove in the wall, then he exited the alcove and proceeded knot of people that included Holt.
He stank of death.
I quietly nudged Black from his light doze, and pointed at the servitor. He lifted the rifle from his lap, and took aim from the scope. Just as the Assassin in disguise reached Holt himself, Black fired.
The airgun mad a soft chuff, as the dart exited the barrel and I saw the Assassin halt, feel along his neck, then collapse on the floor.
Black and I quickly exited, stage right.
As we made our way off the grounds I told Black some of what I had found out from my probing of the Assassin after I had identified him.
The Assassin, it seemed, was not a true Assassin. He was an apprentice, like myself. He had taken this assignment without letting his master know, and from Black's expression, it looked as if the would-be Assassin would find no help from his former teacher.
The assassin had planned on giving a glass filled with belladonna to Holt. He had not been able to get a good shot at giving that glass to him until the party was all but over. It was thus that he had stepped into the alcove to put the poison in a specific glass.
The authorities should have a playday with him, for not only was he carrying a written commission for the assignment, he also had clumsily stashed most of his forepay in his bag on his escape route.
Now I know why Black had been using sleep darts.
When I turned fourteen, Black took us to Assassin's Lodge, the main base of operations for those like us in North America. I had been there a few times before, but only really to visit the Armory and the Forge Room.
The Armory was a museum of sorts, for it housed the weapons of dead Assassins, and served as inspiration for new weapons.
The Forge Room, however, was massive and, more importantly, active, with most of the space being taken up seven different individual forges. Three of the forges were called the 'Prentice Forges, and were for teaching students and making minor ironworks and such. There was a legitimate company that sold those goods made by the apprentice blacksmiths, and it made a good deal of the fortune required for the upkeep of this secret base. Because all sorts of weapons were in use, and even well-made weapons dulled or were lost and broken, two of the great forges were involved solely in repair and replacement work, and were called the R&R Forges. One of the forges was the concern of the master smiths, for it was from this forge that apprentice Assassins received their weapons. Even though repair and replacement was done by those of lesser talent, those who worked the New Forge, would not stoop to anything but a new weapon in the hands of a new Assassin. The last forge was special, and it was called the Mark Forge.
An Assassin was known for a particular mark that they had somewhere on heir bodies. Crow, who visited Black occasionally to trade news, had shown me once what his Mark looked like. It had been a small brand, burned into his skin above his right shoulder blade. The mark did not have to be a brand, it could be a tattoo or a deformity, but it had to be permanent. One could not simply put down the responsibilities of being an Assassin. To be an Assassin was for life.
The Mark Forge could be used by any blacksmith that worked in the Forge Room, but only at the specific request of an Assassin for their apprentice. The Marks made there were usually used for brands and such, but occasionally they were used for templates for tattoos, or instruments for mutilation.
I knew exactly why we were going to the Base.
It was relatively early in the morning, yet I knew, with four time zones of difference and previous experience, that the Forge Room would be bustling. Black and I began our trip in a way that most would not expect: we simply walked randomly down the corridors of the maze beneath the city. Somewhere during our meandering, Black shifted us from Seattle to Quebec, taking less than an instant to cover the distance.
I so wish I could teleport.
We arrived as we had left, wandering hallways. Eventually we found the Forge Room, and entered. I was right. Even this early in the morning, all the forges save the Mark Forge were hot. As we walked over to the Mark Forge, I saw two people standing by its cool well.
I lightly "scanned" both of them. The elder was one of the Master Smiths of the forge, well-respected and venerable. He had been making weapons and Marks for years, but was open to the suggestions of others. The younger man, barely out of his boyhood, full of exuberant ideas, but not too skillful yet in the making of them.
Ah-ha. My teacher has once again pulled an ace out of his sleeve.
"Greetings to you, Mr. Hansower, Mr. Manning," I said as we entered conversation range. They looked startled, for I had never met either of them before. I smiled. "I am Mercury."
Black gave his own greeting in the form of a nod, while the two smiths recovered from their shock. It was strange, that. Had they told Black not to tell of their names?
Hansower replied to my sally. "Now I believe the tales of your amazing skills, Mercury. I had asked Black to withhold our names from you to test that theory."
So I had been right. But on to more pressing business. "So you are the one who made my Mark?"
Here Manning spoke up. "Actually, it was a combined effort, I designed it and Master Hansower worked from the design." The elder nodded in agreement.
I drew in a breath, and slowly released it. "Well then, shall we get down to business, gentlemen?"
The two smiths looked at each other and then to Black. "You are a true Assassin, and have trained your student well?" Hansower began.
Black replied, "I am Black, a true Assassin of the Guild. I have trained my student well, and she has chosen the name Mercury to be her only name."
Hansower nodded, and Manning took up the rite. "You, who have chosen the name Mercury, are you willing to forget any other name, and let any other name you wear from now on shall be naught but for the purpose of the mission?"
I nod. "I am."
Hansower continued, "Do you understand that by taking upon this Mark, made by the hands of the Guild, you shall never be able to walk away from the profession of Assassin?"
The two nodded solemnly, and proceeded through the door behind them. Black and I followed.
It was in this room that the Mark was given and a name taken up until death. It was thus, that out of every other room in the compound, it had no name for itself. It was small, especially so compared to the Forge Room, and it contained a small forge, a chair, and a small chest. By the cool forge was a rack with short poles on it. Hansower took one of these poles and went to the chest. Upon opening it, a gout of cool steam flowed from it, and I felt that something of power was inside. Hansower carefully reached in with the pole, and fit a small object on the end. The pole was now a branding iron.
I could not see the symbol on the end of the brand, but I sensed some sort of power radiating from it, something that told me it was not just simple steel.
But then Manning was by my side, and was gesturing for me to take my shirt off. I did so, and Eric, as his name suddenly came to mind, blushed profusely. But before I could do more than place my shirt in his hands, Hansower had removed the cold-brand from the dry ice it had been sitting on.
Fire brands, when used on cattle, are known to burn off a section of the hide so that it remains dark and crisped looking for the life of the animal. Cold-brands, however, do not have quite the same effect. When a cold-brand is applied to hide, it does leave a burn, but it fades, and the animal's hair simply grows back in white, leaving no other permanent effects to the beast.
Hansower quickly moved over to me, but before he could place it on me, I had a chance to fully "scan" this object that was radiating power to me.
It was made of no metal I had ever known, and was overtly shaped in the symbol of Mercury, a circle with antenna on top and a cross sticking out from the bottom. In detail, however, there were intricate designs and symbols that were part of the power radiating from the strange metal.
The whole thing radiated with the powers of Divination and Ice.
All this I took in, in less than a second, and was beginning to wonder if the tiny, intricate, and beautiful symbols on the brand would transfer to my skin still readable, when Hansower pressed it into me.
I can feel cold. I can know that it is cold out, and that people will probably be wearing sweaters and scarves. However, cold is not uncomfortable to me, and I had assumed, could cause me no pain. But this brand, this piece of strange metal, cooled to sub zero temperatures, hurt. And it was lasting forever, too.
It was around the second eternity that I realized that the pain was not coming from the cold itself, but from the metal that was transferring it. It was resisting something, and subconsciously, I had been resisting it. What would happen, I wonder, if I were to open up to that thing that had been well nigh glowing with my powers?
I do so.
Pain instantly vanishes, turning into something far different. It was not pleasure in any form that I knew it, but it was as if I were complete in a way that could not be had by anything else. Joy wells up within me, almost bursting out, as I take inside that special essence that had marked the brand.
I feel as if I were worlds apart from the tiny room that my physical self is present in. I feel so wonderfully cold; despite the presence of something so terribly hot so near me. I know now that the metal of the brand came from me in the beginning, and so it has returned to me.
Slowly, ever so slowly, do I come back down to this earth, and I find two men hovering protectively above me, but where is Black?
As I regain more sense of my true self and my surrounding, I realize that the floor is awfully soft under my head, but very hard for the rest of me. I blink as Black's head shows itself, upside down, above me.
"Do give some warning before you go Sky Sailing again, will you, Mercury?" the upside-down head says.
Oops. I realize that my head is in his lap, and I still have only my bra to cover my torso.
"Hey, you perverts!" I quickly grab my shirt from Manning and put it on amid my curses of "giving free shows".
As I settle my shirt, I see Manning has a blush to rival a power plant's output, and Hansower is looking anywhere but me. I turn to see Black smirking. I scowl at him, but he just raises his hands in a helpless gesture.
"Just remember what I said about Sky Sailing, and you won't have this problem."
I wonder what Sky Sailing is when my hands brush my stomach settling my shirt, and I feel something is new.
I pull my shirt up a bit, and see something… Shiny?
It's the symbol of Mercury, my symbol now, and it looks as if I really did take the metal into myself. I take a quick glance to the brand, still in Hansower's grasp, but find nothing to differ it from any other pole in the room. Looking back at my abdomen, I run my hand across the symbol. It is smooth, and it flexes just like my skin, seeming to be just the outer layer of it. Unless there is another node of that metal contained in me somewhere, a good ninety percent of the metal just disappeared.
I continued to feel the metal symbol now grafted onto me, and find that Manning's designs and symbols that were so beautiful on the brand, were now on the outside of my new "skin." They were still beautiful, too.
Before I could go on too long, Black spoke up, startling the dazed men out of their shock.
"Well, that's a bit original. Only to be expected, though." As I turn to him in astonishment for such a statement, he continues. "I think, gentlemen, that something like this should be kept away from prying eyes and ears."
Hansower straightens at that. "Of course. That is why it takes place in secrecy. Shall we go, then?" he waved to the door to the Forge Room.
Black and I said our good-byes to Hansower and Manning, the younger man still looking a bit out of it. "I hope he doesn't handle anything dangerous anytime soon." I told Black as we wandered hallways again.
Black just nodded and walked on. Suddenly, there is a jarring, rip-me-from-reality shudder, and I fall to the floor. Black is instantly beside me, helping me calm my breathing, and sit up straight.
"What—" I gasp. "What was that?!"
He just nods and continues to hold me. I feel myself going into shock, and quickly correct my body's weakness.
As Black helps me stand, he answers my question. "That was my teleport. Are you well?"
I nod shakily. "Why did it never feel like that before? I could have sworn that I was ripped through another dimension."
Black nods, "That is what I do, but I "dim" the effects for anyone traveling with me. Absorbing as much magic as was in the wand must have boosted your abilities, temporarily or permanently."
I am too shaky to question him as we make our way back to our home.
It was the next morning, over breakfast, that Black broached the subject of my moving out.
Unless there was a need for more than one Assassin in a city or other given area, they tended to live separately and to not come into contact with each other very often. Crow only came to visit Black once or twice a year, and they were considered great friends.
There was no way that I could stay anywhere near Black, because before my arrival, he alone had taken care of a good deal of territory in the northwest USA — southwest Canada area. Besides, students shouldn't live near their teachers after they've graduated, right?
"Have you any plans on the subject?" he asked me.
I shook my head. "I guess I've been in denial about it. Good Lord, I'm only fourteen! Anywhere in the civilized world, and I'd have to go to school!"
"And all the posts that you could go to are in the civilized world."
I sigh. I guess I'll just have to go to school for the first time. What I learned under Black would put me far ahead of any others my age. I look up at him then. He's got that gleam in his eyes.
"You have a plan."
Black tilts his head to the side, and considers me. "Do you remember the first time we talked over this table?"
I think back. The first time… "It would have been the day we met." I set off a small spell. "Six years, four months, and seventeen days ago."
Black blinked. "How did you do that?"
I grin. "I've learned that I can learn things about myself, if I reflect them off others. For this instance, 'When did Black first show me his home?'"
"Ah. So you still can't tell anything about yourself?"
I realize that I hadn't tried to with the upgrade that I had gotten, but a moment later, I shake my head.
Black looks on for a moment. "You should remember the topic of our conversation, your apprenticeship."
I nod. Where was this going? Oh, wait. "I think… that now would be a good time for the long-term answer, Black."
He raised an eyebrow at my use of his name. I can guess why: always before, I had refereed to him as "Sir" or "Teacher", not the name used by his equals. "I have trained you to be a warrior, but your true calling is that of a soldier."
I blinked in disbelief. "You're kidding, right? How can I be a soldier if I am an Assassin? We always work alone, never in groups, save only when teaching."
"Nevertheless, it is what you were born to do, just as you were born to sometime in your life take up the name Mercury. Had you not chosen it for yourself, it would have been applied to you at some point, as irredeemably yours as it is now. Can you truly say that your name could not be Mercury?"
I open my mouth to refute him, to say that yes, I could have chosen another name. The words never come.
I am Mercury. Now and forever.
Black is waiting for me to say something, but I don't really feel like it. I wave at him to continue.
"Had you refused to become my apprentice, I would have sent you to a place where you would eventually come into contact with them, and taken up the name then." I raise my head to voice a question, but he answers it unasked. "The others of the team do not share your magic, but go by their own." He grins lopsidedly in that way he has. "One of them even takes after mine a bit." He gets more serious. "They are not you, however, and do not have the skills you have both learned and were born with."
I finally give voice to my questions. "So I am the only Assassin?"
He nods, sadly. "The rest of them grew up more or less normally, in middle-class homes with loving families. Most of them," he amends.
I nod dejectedly. They will have no chance of understanding me or my motivations.
Wait; am I actually going to do this? Going to throw away six intensive years of my life, half of my total memory span, just because Black said that some unknown "team" needed me?
But then again, I would have been a part of this team if I had refused to be his apprentice, too.
Something occurs to me then and I grab it. I summon my magic and make a sharp dive through Black's tight mental defenses…
I come to weeping, still seeing the carnage of a broken and bleeding kingdom, its last defenders falling, and of an incredible evil moving in for the kill.
"I will! I will…" I sob, trying to get the images out of my head. My team, my friends, my Queen…
That evening I lay in my bed, sorting out what Black had told me.
Going to Japan? An outsider in a land of insular people? Even if I did look superficially Asian, could the mannerisms be faked enough to persuade others to believe my living lie? But it was the only way to reunite with my team in this incarnation.
That still bugs me, the reincarnation business. If we really are destined for something because of our "souls" or something, then why make any effort in this life to get what was supposed to be coming anyway?
But then again, maybe it's earned in each life.
But if so, what did I do to be condemned to forever be shackled to a single cause? Or is that why Black trained me in the first place? To show me more options?
That was another thing; how in hell had Black been there? At the fall of that kingdom… that must have been eons ago.
Some questions just aren't meant to be answered, I guess.
I would be leaving in the morning, on a transpacific flight to a land even Assassins shunned. Of course, that just meant more opportunities for me.
As for tonight… There had been something I had been planning for quite some time, and tonight would be my last chance to obtain it.
I slipped out of my bed, and walked quietly into the common room of our home. Black had already gone into his room, but I could hear his shower running.
I slip into his room and looked around. I had never even gotten more than a glimpse of what lay inside.
It was surprisingly disappointing. Despite being who knows how old, the room was as sparsely furnished as mine. The door to his bath was closed as well. Perfect.
I slip out of my nightgown, and into his bed. There was no way he's getting away now unless he bodily throws me out.
Or runs, but that's not like him.
Finally, the shower turns off and I hear him drying off. The door to the bath opens, and Black takes three steps out before he realizes he's not alone.
My eyes lit up at the sight of him, with nothing but a towel and his own stubbornness between me and my goal.
He looks at me in the bed, and I smile at him. "Aren't you coming to bed, darling?"
He stands there for a moment. "You know, I've been expecting this to happen ever since you reached menarche. I just didn't think you'd make a try after a shock like this morning." He paused for emphasis. "No."
I was a bit taken aback. Here I am, ready and waiting, and "No" is it? Sure, fine, he was expecting me before, but "No"?
Maybe I overestimated his stubbornness.
I climb out of the bed, but do not go to my nightclothes like he is obviously thinks I will. Instead I walk straight to him and look up at him.
And up. I suddenly realize that maybe standing wasn't so good for my debating skills. My 5'2" to his 6'0" certainly attested to that. Time to go to plan 'B': tenacity.
I smile sweetly, "I'm not leaving here 'til I get what I want. And you know what that is."
He takes a deep breath, then suddenly, stops. I look closer at his face, and see that his eyes have unfocused, as if he weren't paying attention to the world around him. As if he was talking to someone else, far away.
Before I can bring my magic to play, he refocuses on me again.
The simple question throws me off. Isn't he supposed to be arguing with me right now?
I steady my thoughts. "Because I want, just one for time, to hold and be held, to make love to a man as he makes love to me. Do you really think that I will find anyone anytime soon that can do that for me? Someone who sees me for a person, not just something to release passion onto? I just want it so badly I could die!" I'm in tears now, and I don't care. Just once, that's all. He won't deny me that once, will he?
Of course, I know he can.
I cry, and I feel arms wrap around my naked form to comfort me, as they did on that night on the dock after my first solo.
I feel myself being lifted up, then placed on something soft. I wonder what has happened when I feel lips on my own.
My eyes widen and then close in pleasure. After awhile, we break apart.
"Why?" I ask, wondering at his swift change.
"Sometimes… you just have give your reasons."
Neither of us said more that night.
Tokyo International Airport. Nippon at last.
The flight took far to long in my opinion, but then I had been used to Black's instantaneous mode of travel.
Black. It hurt to think of him, but less so now than before.
I guess that I had been infatuated with him for a long time, and had only just now gotten over that when we made love together. That had lasted for a long, wonderful time, but in the end, all things must be finished.
I suppose I won't be seeing him for a long time. Perhaps as long as it takes for this new kingdom I'm going to be fighting for to arise.
But I know that someday we'll meet again.
There! There's the sign with my name on it, or rather the name I'm going to be using. That's going to take some getting used to.
Ami Mizuno. It has a bit of a ring to it.
But it is not my true name.
I am Mercury. And I am loyal to no one.
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