Thursday, May 08, 2014

Spirit of the Season: Part 13

            Sneaking into Baron Jasven's apartment was literally the easiest thing Leopold had done in a long time. The baron's guards may have been highly trained for direct confrontations and to pick threats out of a crowd, but against The Group's assassin, they were no match. All it took was a basic stop-and-go strategy and a few shadows, and Leopold was past the roaming guards. Of course, it didn't help that they were trying to be as nonchalant as possible, a task they failed miserably at. They could easily be identified as guards from a mile away.  Leopold snickered to himself as he watched them from the shadows. It is hard, he noted, to try to look like a civilian out for a stroll at midnight, especially one who walks the same path time and time again.
            Getting to the baron's room was even easier. He was situated on the second floor, a laughably easy climb for Leopold. The window shutters were closed and latched, but ten seconds from Leopold's knife, and they were open. With a glance down to where the guards were still pacing back and forth, he inched the shutter open just far enough to squeeze through and dropped silently into the room beyond.

            The interior of the room was pitch black, but that was nothing new to Leopold. He moved quickly but silently away from the window in case he had been spotted entering. After all, the last thing he wanted to do was show someone where he was and then wait for his eyes to adjust. That was just bad for business. He raised his hand in front of his face and blinked rapidly, focusing on where he knew his hand was. This was a trick he had learned long ago, a simple way to force the eyes to adjust to darkness more quickly. It worked like a charm and in no time he could see well enough to navigate. Now on to the most important part of this entire excursion. The goal was to scare the baron, and while this would largely be accomplished by showing up uninvited in the middle of the night, presentation could significantly increase or reduce the amount of fear. Even in the assassin business, it was all about presentation.
            Leopold found the night table near the baron's bed and the lamp he had suspected would be there. Mostly by feel he trimmed the wick to a very low burn and lit it. The flame was bright enough to light the room, but not so bright as to alert people outside. Leopold grabbed a stool from the foot of the bed and took it around to the side. He stood on it, positioning himself so the light silhouetted him. This would be an incredible visual for the baron when he woke up: the silhouette of an unknown intruder towering above and straight down at him. Now for the final part, waking the baron up. There had been much discussion as to how to do this. Midas was in favor of clashing something together right by his ear to wake him up in a panic. Leopold had pointed out that making a lot of noise was not really the goal of a sneaker like himself. Many other ideas had been suggested, but none of them quite measured up to what Leopold was looking for. Shaking the baron awake would be quiet but not produce the feeling of abject terror they wanted. Slapping the baron would put Leo close enough to be attacked if the baron was paranoid enough to sleep with a weapon.
            Leopold reached under his cloak and retrieved a canteen. Water had been the answer to the question of how to wake the baron. It could be thrown from a distance, eliminating the danger of attack. Also, because water was associated with drowning, it would instill terror in the baron. At least that was the plan. Leopold uncapped the canteen and flung the water. It arced through the air, giving the boy enough time to secure his canteen and assume the most intimidating posture he could manage. The water slopped in a long line right across the baron's face and...nothing happened. The baron continued to sleep, unaffected by the water dripping off his skin and soaking into the sheets. Leopold groaned and stepped off the stool. Sometimes the simplest ways were the best ways. Grabbing the baron's throat in his left hand, he slapped him across the face as hard as he could with his right. The baron's eyes snapped open and he swung his left hand, a dagger suddenly in it, at his assailant. Leopold captured the left wrist in a vice-like grip and applied his body weight to the baron's throat.
            "Drop the dagger, or I will squeeze the life out of you," he growled. The baron struggled for a moment, but swiftly realized that resistance was futile. He dropped the dagger, and Leopold scooped it up, taking a step back from the bed.
            "Don't I know you?" the baron rasped, rubbing his throat. He forced himself to a seated position and stared at Leopold more closely. "Yeah, you're the kid from the tavern. What's the meaning of this? I could have you executed."
            Leopold didn't answer. Instead he pulled from under his cloak the purse containing the baron's money and threw it at him. The projectile bounced off the baron's chest and fell into his lap.
            "What is this?" the baron asked, genuinely puzzled.
            "Your money," Leopold said. He wasn't trying to sound intimidating anymore, it was just coming out that way. "The job's off."
            "We have a deal," the baron said angrily, swinging his feet off the bed. Leopold stepped forward, extending the dagger in his hand; the weapon pricked the baron's neck, stopping him in his tracks. A single drop of blood bubbled up at the dagger's tip and rolled down his skin.
            "Correction," Leopold said coldly. "We had a deal. Not anymore. I returned your money and am no longer beholden to you."
            "Do you understand what you're doing?" the baron said. He was clearly struggling to subdue his voice. "Do you understand who I am? I will ruin you for this. You can't back out on a deal with me and continue to do business."
            Leopold gave a low chuckle that chilled the baron to his bones.
            "What are you going to do?" the boy asked. "Are you really going to tell your allies that you got bamboozled by the most notorious group of assassins currently in existence? Let's take a short moment to examine how unbelievably short sighted and stupid that would be."
            "I will track you down, and I'll make you pay," the baron growled.
            "Look here, baron," Leopold said, putting as much disgust as he could into the title. "Idle threats don't become you. I know you're used to holding all the cards and getting to play your hand exactly like you want to, but this time I'm holding all the cards save two. The only things you have to your advantage are my very limited conscience and the way I do business. The only thing they'll buy you is your life and the money I gave back. Press your luck and they may not even buy that for too long."
            "Wait a second," the baron exclaimed. "You're here, which means you figured it out, didn't you?"
            "That you're a worthless, dastardly excuse for a human being?" Leopold asked. "Yes, I figured that out."
            "You think you can stop a war, but it won't work" the baron said. "What do you think is going to happen when I tell everyone that I had a visit from an assassin the night I stayed in this castle? It's common knowledge that Maria doesn't like me."
            "Yeah, something to do with you killing her parents," Leopold said. It was a total bluff to put the baron on the defensive. He remembered Raven talking about Maria's parents being killed, though who had done it was a complete mystery. The chances that the baron had done it were a million to one. Then again, he still hadn't said anything.
            "That wasn't me," he finally responded. His face and tone told a different story.
            "Sure it wasn't," Leopold said sarcastically. "In any event, let's get one thing straight. If you say that Lady Maria tried to have you killed, I will come out and admit that you hired me to kill your own horse in her castle just to start a war. I imagine that won't sit well with your allies."
            "You clearly don't know the people I consort with," the baron shot back.
            "In that case," Leopold said, putting some pressure on the dagger at the baron's throat. A new trickle of blood ran down his neck. "I can get into your chambers just as easily the second time. One way or the other, bring this up to anyone, and you will lose."
            "Contract killers don't take sides," the baron said. "What kind of an assassin are you?"
            "A bloody good one," Leopold answered.
            "Then what's your plan for getting out of here?" the baron asked. "As soon as you leave, I'll yell for my guards."
            "They'll never catch me," Leopold said, lowering the dagger. "And if you yell, I'll be back."
            The baron didn't even wait for him to finish speaking before lunging at him with a sloppy right-handed punch. Leopold easily deflected the blow. An instant later he landed a shattering right hook on the baron's ear; the large man collapsed to the ground and didn't move. Knock-out in one punch, Leopold thought grimly. He might be small, but he certainly had the skill. He dashed across the room to the window and crawled out. Instead of returning to the ground, he climbed to the roof and surveyed the castle. The guards remained oblivious to what had just happened to their baron.
           Leopold remained on top of the building, watching the guards and surveying the castle defenses. He didn't have to find a way in anymore, but the exercise calmed him, and after the recent shot of adrenaline he had received, he needed time to cool off. It was almost an hour before he dismounted the far side of the structure and headed back to his room. It had been a good night's work; now for a good night's sleep. 

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