Trying to find someone to teach her the skills she needed was proving to be somewhat tedious. Half a dozen leads that Riot had followed had turned into dead ends or someone who went with the brute force approach. She didn't need the brute force approach, Riot was already large enough in her unshifted form to handle most complications that way and could shift for anything larger. What she needed was a quieter more stealthy set of skills. Something she could do without garnering the attention she normally drew through her size alone. The plan was to work in the Mazri court as an ambassador or emissary: that would give her the means and reasons to travel as she wished to do work for Mazri and his court. If she wanted to do that she needed a better way to take care of her problems than shifting and smashing things until they weren't in her way anymore.
She was currently following her latest lead, one she'd found while attached at some noble house. Asking questions, very careful questions, had teased at rumours of somewhere she could go to learn the assassin skills she was looking for but Riot has zero idea of how to go about it. It's not like you could walk right up to the front door of an assassin guild’s headquarters, knock, and politely ask for teaching. Right?
Crimson stamped a paper and added it to one of the piles. It wasn’t a terrible day from the paperwork side of things, not by a long shot. From the physical side of things she was ready to submit herself to the court out of sheer boredom.
No mission’s that she could have justified going on had come for over a week and she started feeling like she was starting to rot away in her office chair.
The next one paper she lifted wasn’t a formal contract or document, however. Above the stack was a small scribbled note that said “Somebody has been asking. Middle court” with a small name scribbled on the bottom of the note. Crimson decided to answer the call to adventure.
Crismon walked into the main hall and called out “Hey! Somebody know where Nil is?”.
The various mercenaries and guild members shrugged. But after a couple of moments, somebody yelled “I think he’s in the training rooms!” from the edge of the hall.
Crimson went back up the stairs and down the corridors until she found the one he was in.
Nil was busy spinning projectiles of stone around himself when Crimson entered.
It took a couple of seconds before he noticed her at which point he dropped the rocks gently on the floor “Guildmistress! What can I do to help?”.
She waved the note he left in her stack “Remember this?”.
“How can I forget?”.
Crimson walked deeper into the room. “So who’s been asking?”
Nil shrugged “Some girl in the middle court. Young, impressionable, seems like a warrior type but she has been looking for assassins. Maybe somebody insulted her for the first time and she wants to kill them, maybe she plans a coup. How did it even reach your draft pile? Do you want me to take care of her?”.
Crimson dismissed the proposal “I’ll go check what her deal is myself. I need a break anyhow. What does the girl even look like?”.
Nil waved his arms swiftly in a sort of “no can do” message. “I can’t sneak you to the court like that. You’ll be seen. That girl is always out somewhere on the road, in a temple of Mazrim or at home in the upper circles. She won't be where you’ll find her. Just meet me in the empty market centre of the left river. Should be deserted by 4 hours after nightfall, she’ll be there”.
Crimson looked at him for a few more moments before turning around and calling out “Don’t disappoint me!” in a joking manner as she disappeared down the corridor.
If you asked Riot later she wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about the woolyne who caught her arm one evening and told her that they knew what she was looking for. Height, body type, markings, scars, she couldn’t recall anything in particular and the memories seemed to slip away from her whenever she tried to focus on them. Maybe that was for the best though. She probably hadn’t made a great first impression when she’d snarled at the surprising touch as her teeth and claws started to elongate with an unconscious shift. Granted she doubted she’d even have been able to do anything to her mystery speaker considering their quickness, but it wasn’t every day that a shadowy figure appeared to give you the answers to your problems.
“There’s word going round that you’ve been asking questions.” the mystery woolyne told her. “Some very… pointed questions. Really you should be more delicate about the situation. A good half of any underground movement likely knows about you now and not all of them are as polite as we are.”
“And who is we?” Riot turned slightly so as to have her back facing a wall and looked about. “As far as I can tell we’re alone in the middle of an empty corridor.”
The woolyne waved off the question flippantly, “Oh, just a group. A few wools from here and there who know how to do things.” she could feel the amusement all but dripping from the words. “Things that you’ve been trying to learn. Things that we might be willing to teach if you prove to be worth our time.”
Riot straightened listening more intently now. If this was someone she’d been looking for than they could have had her down and out by now if they’d wanted to, and she never would have known it. “So you want me to prove myself then? Like a test or a fight? Sure. Bring it on. If you’re from where you’re insinuating then I can’t beat you, but I’ll do my best.” she settled back into a half crouched fighting stance and made a come ahead gesture. A gesture that was promptly scoffed at.
“I’m not going to fight you. Besides, I don’t make those decisions. You’ll need to talk to someone else. There’s a market center off the left side of the river. If you can be there, say, 3 hours after nightfall, someone should show up. Make sure you’re there to make it worth their while though.” With that the woolyne turned and left, giving her no further instructions or clues.
That was how Riot found herself at the aforementioned market, at the aforementioned time. There were a few stragglers heading Mazrim only knows where as she sat on a bench. Her knee bounced up and down, her fingers tapped, her eyes glanced around taking in each new woolyne’s face. She got up and walked back and forth, pacing the area around her bench, thoughts going a mile a minute as she considered what was to come.
Crimson was lying down on a rooftop judging the large woolyne pace in the street. The woolyne had the build of a fighter, but hadn't even looked up. Not the most promising off candidates but she wasn't going to judge based on one mistake.
Crimson studied the body language of the woolyne called Riot through her monocular and considered the best approach.
She could approach her head-on, either with words or an attack. Crimson decided against that option. She didn't doubt Riot’s fighting abilities.
She could try to kidnap her, see how she reacts.
She could also try to get her to get to the roof and chase her. Though she doubt it was a good idea. Few acrobats had such a build and she didn't want to need to scrub a recruit off the pavement.
Kidnapping it is.
She crawled the edge of the roof between the building she was on and the next one and climbed down. Crimson snuck between buildings and approached Riot’s bench from behind. She made sure her fast was fastened and prepared her grappling hook and rope.
As Riot turned around the bench she ran and pounced without a sound, wrapping the rope around Riot’s neck and pulling as if to choke but not with enough force. She whispered in Riot’s ears “Don’t fight me, I’m your contact.”
Quite a few thoughts ran through Riot’s mind at once. Chief among them being that this was likely exactly what she deserved for making such obvious inquiries into unsavory topics. The second most was that she’d been an idiot and her shifting stone was not currently hanging about her neck as it should be. ‘Note to self,’ she thought, ‘figure out something I can wear discreetly to have shifting stone on hand at all times.’
There wasn’t anyone else around at this time and really, just like the woolyne who directed her here, if whoever was currently on her back had wanted her dead Riot would be dead. At the whispered instruction in her ear she held up her empty hands in surrender. With the rope around her throat her voice came out in a rasping whisper, but she made note of the fact that she could still breathe. “I’m smart enough to know when something or someone is beyond my skill. Besides, I just wanted to talk anyway. If that’s amenable would you mind terribly removing your… whatever it is, from around my throat? I’d appreciate not being strangled and left for the guards to find in the market in the morning.” Riot carefully began to back toward the approximate location of the bench, waiting to feel the marble at the back of her knees that would let her know she could sit down.
Crimson released the rope from one of her hands, gathered it and placed it in her belt. She kept a hand on her dagger, however. The woolyne in front of her could still be an elaborate ruse and working against her. Only the gods knew how many people wanted her dead. One wrong move and the two woolynes would turn into a woolyne and a corpse, and she didn’t plan on being the latter.
She made notes of Riot’s actions. Compliant, good reaction time. She walked around Riot to stand in front of her and looked up at the much larger woolyne. The woolyne in front of her was most definitely a shifter. She recognized the self-confident way of walking which lined up with the body typed and her instinct to crouch forward when surprised.
It was rare for shifters to be guild members. They tended to be louder and less controlled. Nobles and merchants guards that could fight in a corridor without tearing the tapestry and who even heard of an assassin the size of a large nikyak?
The small group of shifters that were in the guild usually went on raids or as protectors for convoys. Yet this one was here after asking after the quieter ways of elimination.
A truly curious case and an excellent break from the paperwork.
“Not many people have the audacity to go around asking where to find an assassin. Many less go around asking how to become one” Crimson said as she walked around Riot. She didn’t bow or wave. This wasn’t the court and while physically Riot towered over her, Crimson stood tall above Riot in the social sense.
“You have done just that. Somebody much less nice than I could have found you. So, entertain me; Why does a shifter of the court want to go around learning how to kill without a trace?”.
Riot eased down onto the bench as the rope was removed from around her neck and this contact moved to stand in front of her. They moved like they knew exactly where every part of their body was at any given moment. Acutely aware of how they interacted with everything within their vicinity. She didn’t stop her grin, half wry half sheepish, at the initial statement of her poor forward thinking.
“One of those less nice someones wouldn’t have talked to me though. They would have just stuck a knife between my shoulder blades as I passe, so I guess I’m lucky. Thank Mazrim for that.” she cocked her head slightly as she looked at the assumed-assassin in front of her, “As to why though? Well, I’m going to rise in the court.”
She didn’t say it like was a hope or in the questioning tone of someone who dreams big, it was stated like a fact. Something clearly as undeniable and unshakeable in Riot’s mind as the fact that Andras had two moons. “I am going to rise,” she repeated, “but I’m kind of big and obvious. I am loud and I stand out in a crowd. Going around and swatting people about in any form is going to be noticed. But if all the eyes on me are waiting for me to bulldoze my way through physically, then no one will be looking for me to solve potential problems any other way. I can’t be stealthy by blending in so, maybe I can be stealthy by standing out.” Riot had always thought her argument made sense, even if it was in a kind of roundabout way, but she’d never had so much riding on using it to convince someone else before.
“A shifter with a plan no less. How amusing”. Crimson smiled under her mask. The woolyne in front of her had potential alright.
Crimson posed slightly and pretended to consider her options. She had already decided to take Riot in yet she couldn't say no to stressing the shifter a more.
“I've decided, I'll teach you the knowledge you seek” She said. Yet before Riot could answer she went on “however, there are terms. First, No one can know anything at all. If you even think of mentioning me. I will know.
Second, it will cost you. This won't be your entire house fortune, but nothing comes for free.
There will be more terms that will be revealed in due time, but you don't need to know them just yet”.
Crimson extended a gloved paw “do we have a deal?”
Laughing in the middle of an empty market surely wasn’t how you stayed inconspicuous but one did manage to sneak it’s way out of Riot before she quieted it down into an amused snort. It was true after all, most people didn’t expect her to be that intelligent based on her side and class choice. She hadn’t felt this anxious waiting on a reply in a while so it wasn’t that much of a surprise that she fidgeted nervously as this woolyne was making their decision.
They said they’d do it though and Riot’s jumped up like a marionette pulled that just had their strings pulled taught. Her emotions swung back and forth wildly between vibrating with excitement and sagging with relief. She grabbed the paw in front of her when it was offered, spared a brief moment to hope that one of those future terms wouldn’t be something impossible for her, then shook it. “Deal.”
‘Mazrim let me not be asked to betray you or your court.’ the prayer bounced around her brain as she looked down at this woolyne in front of her. “So, I’m guessing you already know this, but I’m Riot. Do you have something you want me to call you?”
“Call me Bloodmoon” Crimson replied.
“Be at Hazel street 56 tomorrow at 3 in the afternoon sharp. No being late. No excuses. Got it?”.
Of course, it wasn’t the actual address of the guildhouse. It wasn’t even a safe house. She will have a member waiting for Riot there that would lead her blindfolded to the guild. She still didn’t trust Riot and wasn’t going to give her the location of the guildhouse.
Crimson would prepare some things to train Riot with in the art of stealth. She guessed she would start with surprisingly vulnerable spots to kick somebody it and move on from there.
“Yes ma’am.” Riot might have snapped to attention had she ever been part of the Mazri military. Bloodmoon had the sort of voice that seemed used to command and woolyne following orders. Somehow she already hoped she didn’t disappoint her. Glancing around the empty market the tall woolyne fidgeted. “So,” trailing off she made a few vague gestures, waving her hands, “now what? Was there anything else for tonight or should I just… go?” Riot nodded her head to the side and pointed off with her thumb. For all her bold talk and brashness she wasn’t sure where to go from here, particularly considering she hadn’t really thought she’d get this far to begin with.
“Oh yes it will be all” Crimson said but didn’t turn to walk away “You can go home, relax, I’ll see you when I do. And remember this never happened, and all other encounters never will” She finished with throat slitting motion with her thumb and turned and walked back to the alley from which she came.
She climbed to the roof from the Alley and observed Riot eventually leaving from a safe distance and location. She followed her through the streets until she reached a buisier area at which point she turned tail and headed back to the guild.
She managed to find Nil in his quarters back at the guild.
She knocked on his door and after she heard a faint groan followed by what she thought was “what now?” She came in.
“Guildmaster!” He exclaimed and sat up in his bed “How did the meeting go?”.
Crimson leaned on the doorframe. “She seems like she has potential, good reaction time, quick on the uptake, not a terrible actor. She would do nicely as a temporary agent even if we don’t make her a full member. That, and I think I scared her to the hooves!” Crimson laughed lightly and Nil shared a nervous laugh “What did you do to the poor gir?”.
Crimson did the motion of wrapping the rope around Riot’s neck “Just pretended to kidnap her for a moment. Nothing painful but I did my job of intimidation”.
Nil smiled “Well it’s only a matter of time until she discovers the way you are normally”.
Nil stopped smiling when he saw Crimsons face. “Are you implying something, Nil?” She said and looked at him with a smile that implied countless way of making him regret every breath he ever took.
“No guildmaster”. Crimson kept smiling, “Good, see you around Nil”. She gave him a final look before she went to retire to her own quarters. She would have to finish all the current stack of papers tomorrow before she had to take care of Riot.
She concluded in her mind it should be interesting and went to prepare for bed.
Just like that Riot was dismissed. As she headed out of the market and toward the district where the noble she was sleeping the entire day seemed to weigh on her at once. The gravity of what she’d found and learned and done came back to her like a kick in the teeth and a basket of rocks on her shoulders. She’d done it. She’d set out to find someone, anyone, who would teach her in assassination, intrigue, and espionage, and now she had them. Her steps paused by one of the many small shrines to Mazrim throughout the currently quiet and empty city.
Now that she had them though, what would she do with them? Or more correctly, what would they do with her.
‘Well. Only one way to find out.’ she knelt next to the statue to the summer god, muttered a few hushed and jumbled words about safety and guidance and then stood and continued trudging on towards her bed.
Once through the gates of the house and with the door to her room shut firmly behind her Riot collapsed into sleep. Morning came all too quickly. Robotically going through the motions of her morning routine she mentally listed her duties for the day and set about to complete them as quickly and efficiently as possible. When they were done there was just enough time left to get to Hazel street.
Grabbing a light lunch on the way out the door Riot fingered her shifting stone that hung on a chain under her light long tunic. She didn’t know if she’d need it, hoped she wouldn’t at least, but it never hurt to come prepared. Hurrying on along down the street her hooves clicked against the cobblestones, she had somewhere to be.
Crimson woke up with the sun and set out for another day of work.
She got down to eat breakfast and after and after eating sat down in her office to get on with the paperwork.
By noon she had chosen two Woolynes who looked enough like they would fit in the court and were about Riot’s age from the guild members without too much to do and sent them to fetch Riot.
Outside they looked like two rowdy young adults with the build of those training to knights, smiling and wearing semi-formal clothes woolynes of their rank would wear. Underneath the clothes however, they were armed with blades and a blindfold.
When Riot got to the address the two approached like old friends. “Riot!” One of them called out as they walked towards her. “Good to see you came buddy! We hoped you will accept the party invitation!” The speaking woolyne, who had fur of orange with dark and pale streaks approached her with a hug.
Riot raised an eyebrow. She didn’t know why she had expected to see Bloodmoon again and it made sense for the woolyne to send others, but still how was she supposed to know for sure that these were members of the guild. Watching the orange one approaching her she cocked her head to the side and looked them up and down. To be fair, she was at the appointed address at the appointed time and these wools knew her name. That seemed to give them the credit that she was wondering on.
Her answering grin was just a little too wide, showing a little too many teeth to be completely friendly. “Sure buddy,” she answered, mimicking the other’s form of address, “you know I’m always down for a good party. Should be fun.” Massive arms open wide for the hug Riot stepped forward. If this was some sort of trick, then it’d be easier to deal with if she had at least one of in her grasp.
The woolyne whispered in her ear “glad you could join us. Follow us and you’ll meet your friend from yesterday shortly”. The tone was not threatening. It was calm, collected and even slightly cheerful.
The Woolyne released her and fetched a strap of slightly worn grey cloth from a small pouch on his belt. “You are going to have to put this on your eyes. We don’t want to spoil the surprise!”. The woolyne laughed lightly.
The other woolyne just stood behind the first and looked around smiling and saying nothing. They had darkish blue fur with gradients to lighter shades around the neck and bright pale orange eyes and horns which helped create a calm aura around them. An energetic fellow and one calm. A public image of two good friends.
The tension in her shoulder drained slightly knowing she’d meet with Bloodmoon only to come back as she narrowed her eyes at the blindfold. There really wasn’t any other option than to trust these two if she wanted to continue so she bent over to allow the orange woolyne to tie the blindfold around her head. Once it was secure she straightened up again, put one hand on a shoulder, at least she hoped it was a shoulder, and pointed in front of her. “Lead on friend, you do know how I love surprises. Adventure awaits and all that.”
The two woolyne began to guide her through the market crowds. Though some looked but none cared for a group of three friends walking around, even if one was blindfolded, when they had to go about their day. They navigated through the busy streets, occasionally bumping into somebody but eventually they started reaching clearings in crowded as they descended into the lower parts of the city. Eventually, they were left alone apart from an occasional woolyne.
While the walk wasn’t short and must have felt much longer to Riot as she was being led blindly through the capital city of the kingdom eventually they stopped and she heard knocking on wood followed by the sound of wood moving against wood and then wood against stone. She was led a couple more steps before her blindfold was removed.
Riot would find herself in a decently sized hall filled with woolynes of all shapes sizes and ages. Some just kids with spear stood beside her while most sat around eating, drinking or just talking. The hall had no windows but was well lit with runes on the ceiling. Most of the hall was filled with tables and chairs with the other end having a bar and to the left a large board behind a long table manned by a single woolyne. The board had all sorts of papers pinned into it. Some had faces sketched, some just words but all advertised various rewards, usually monetary.
To her right however, stood a staircase leading up to unknown places.
As the walk progressed Riot came to realize something. She really didn't like being blindfolded. Her ears twitched as she tried to take in any sound that would give her a warning of something dangerous and she tried to guess where they were based on a mental map of the city. She had no idea. Finally, the sounds around her changed and she was led inside and the blindfold was removed letting her take in her surroundings.
She really hadn't expected the woolynes around her to be such a mix of ages, the young ones in particular. As she looked around she took in all the different woolyne. The board drew her curiosity and she started toward it before stopping and looking at the two wools who had led her here.
“Someplace y’all have here. It's bright for no windows so those runes must have been pretty well done or cost quite a few shards. So uh,” she trailed off and looked around again, “are we going to drink or still need to go somewhere or…?” There was a small furrow between her eyebrows as she let the question hang. She was surrounded by woolyne she didn't know in an unknown location so the next steps were up to them.
The more talkative woolyne laughed the question off “I’ll go fetch her. Just stay here, I don’t know what your standing in the guild is yet”. And with that she was left with the quiet one as the dark and orange woolyne ran to and up the stairs.
The woolyne didn’t pay her too much attention apart from the odd glance. Many people came and went from the guild constantly and with some only awake at times other’s were usually asleep it would make sense not everybody knew everybody.
The quiet woolyne kept standing next to her, occasionally giving a nod to a passing woolyne.
Soon enough the woolyne came back followed by a short woolyne with a dark fur and an orange spotted back and a pale head with a braid going from behind to the shoulders. She was wearing a long dark red skirt that a couple of pouches on it.
As she entered the room all the woolynes in it seemed to tense up a little. She stood in front of Riot and waved the quiet woolyne off. He joined his friend and both walked up the stairs.
“So” Crimson said “We meet again”.
Riot continued to fidget as one of the escorts walked off, fingers winding and unwinding in her whiskers. She told herself not to be anxious but to finally have this chance was a pretty big thing. This could be a turning point in her life. As she weighed the pros and cons of attempting small talk with her other escort, or any of the woolynes who passed really, Bloodmoon and the wool who brought her cane back into the room.
The change in atmosphere was obvious, even to an untrained eye like Riot’s, and she wondered just who Bloodmoon was. Dangerous surely, and clearly respected, feared, or both going by the tension in the room. Had Bloodmoon told her her position in this guild? Riot didn't think so but as her escorts were dismissed she could only assume the position was one of at least some power.
Holding out her hand again when she was addressed Riot nodded. “Yes ma’am. You said to be here and not be late and here I am. How would you like me to start?”
“So uptight, relax!” Crimson laughed lightly. “Nobody is going to kill you, yet. Just walk with me”. Crimson gestured for Riot to walk with her back up the stairs.
In her head, Crimson debated which path to take. Not in the guild, she had already decided to take her to a training hall. She wondered on the figurative sense of which path she should take while talking with Riot. She could try to overwhelm her, maybe make her afraid. She could make Riot feel powerful and cater to what she needs for some extra cash. But she decided on a simple but effective method of an honest salesperson.
“I want you to explain to me all sort of training you had, and what you are willing to pay for new knowledge”. Crimson gave Riot some room for thought before keeping on. “Before you answer, understand that many come to us with preconceived notions of bloodthirsty maniacs. While I won’t deny that some of the people here may answer to that description, it does not mean we barter in the blood of the masses. This is an establishment like any other. We need money for gear, food, information and to pay those who help us. We will simply request some money for our time. At the end of it all, you may even be able to join the guild and earn your money back”.
Crimson was pretty satisfied with her little speech. She made sure they walked slowly and walked a long and confusing way so they had time for talking while walking. She found it made people less nervous.
Crimson took pride in her work. And while she preferred the field action on rooftops, she also found the joy in the simple yet cutthroat navigation of the conversion.
Riot followed along with Bloodmoon as they walked. There were excited jitters in her stomach, butterflies that were a mix of apprehension and eagerness. She opened her mouth to answer but paused when Bloodmoon continued. It was something to think about. To evaluate her preconceived opinions of the woolynes in this group.
“Firstly, as per the training I've had: I live at court. I've had training with some of the finest guards and soldiers that serve the queen. I know hand to hand combat, or the basics of it, I won't claim to be an expert but I can hold my own. And I've been trained for both this size and my shifted size. I'm not far enough advanced in my shifter training to be able to shift only certain body parts or have the change be instantaneous. There's a slight pause between when I start the shift and when it's final.
I won't lie, from what I've seen this place is less… dark, then I thought it would be. There seem to be many different types of woolynes from all over the spectrum. There were children running about! A super secret evil guild of cutthroats who live only to… well, cutthroats, wouldn't have children about probably. That's a bit of a relief honestly. I was a bit worried of what I'd gotten myself into.”
While Riot managed to keep her relief from sighing out of her she was sure it still rang through in her voice.
“As per the second question and what I'm willing to pay for the knowledge I'll admit I'm a bit short-sighted. Growing up in the court has slanted my view of what is considered an acceptable amount to pay.” It was a diplomat’s non-answer if she'd ever given one but it was true. Riot was far more privileged than most when it came to access of funds but that didn't mean she couldn't dicker and negotiate like the marketplace merchant.
“The only place I draw the line is treason. Mazrim selected the court and I trust in the god to choose his speakers. I know better than to try and dispose of them thinking I could make a better pick. If that’s unacceptable please tell me now and you can forget you ever saw me.”
She tried to put steel into her words, to stand straight and tall and proud, because this was the sticking point she would not, could not give in on. Of all the things she was prepared to do, going against Mazrim was not on the list. Riot hoped her devotion to her god was not about to get her into trouble now.
Crimson nodded as she listened. She was glad to know Riot was well aware of her standing and far from a fool.
“You shouldn’t worry, I won’t force you to anything you’d rather not unless it is necessary. I find that people work best with what they are comfortable with. Even though you should venture outside of your comfort zone every now and then, no? Broaden your horizons a little.
Another thing you should know is that while I do appreciate the coin pay can be in a wealth of other forms: tools, people and most important information are all quite useful you’ll find”.
They walked a short while longer before they reached their destination. Crimson led Riot in a small round room with domed walls that turn into the ceiling. Most light came from diffused glass on the top with presumably runes behind it. The walls were covered with simple black ink illustrations of different martial arts and their various forms. Opposite of the double doors they entered from stood another pair.
“You said you were at least somewhat comfortable with martial arts. I want you to try to pin me to the ground” Crimson took off her skirt and tossed it to the side. It landed with a thud and the sound of metal clashing from inside the pouches. “No shifting, no weapons, no magic. Just you and me. If you feel too much pain, just say so”.
Crimson stood ready. She had no doubt if Riot used her own weight right she could hold her down eventually, but Crimson had her fair share of experience of grappling, even when blades were out of the picture.
Ears pricked up, Riot brightened. “Now information, that I can do. I plan on having plenty of access to that.” The large woolyne followed Bloodmoon quietly, considering this new information on different types of payment she would be able to provide.
As they came to a stop in the new room her head swivelled trying to take it all in at once. It seemed to be a perfect training room, clean and minimalist with no extraneous items lying about to trip up someone who was practising. When Bloodmoon explained what they would be doing Riot nodded, though an eyebrow did raise at the sound her skirt made when she tossed it to the side.
‘A weighted skirt, or maybe one with hidden pockets for blades or a garrote… that could be useful if it was designed correctly.’ she mused as she nodded to the given instructions and settled into a crouch. Then Riot lunged.
Using her size and weight to her advantage had been drilled into her over the years and she was accustomed to doing so in the palace training yards. This was not the palace training yards. While she would take an opportunity if she saw one the first thing she needed to do was gauge her opponent. Knowing that Riot bobbed, weaved, feinted, and blocked as best she could. If there was an opening she would use it and her body weight to bear down on the smaller woolyne, but she had to find one first. If one existed.
Crimson actually expected Riot to maybe stand still as well, judge beforehand and maybe go for a swift strike. But a lunge suited the stereotype of the shifter warrior very well. Large, bulky, hard-hitting and straight to the point.
Crimson knew that taking a dead-on approach against a larger target was a mistake, so she took the one that goes to the side. Crimson rolled to her right and without stopping afterwards caught herself on the floor with her left paw and swung herself into a jump and a kick towards Riot. Hoping to catch her on the lower body and follow up with another kick.
Riot tried to bring a foot stomping down on the agile woolyne as she rolled but when Bloodmoon jumped up Riot was forced to skip back a step. Off balance, she skidded as she attempted to compensate for the kick aimed at her, but she didn’t try to avoid it. If she could catch the smaller woolyne then it may shift to her favour.
Crimson hit Riot on the right thigh with right hoof and aimed her other leg to hit Riot on the jaw but didn’t consider the woolynes great height even while crouched for stability. She missed Riot’s head and turned the second kick into a twist as she attempted to land and the kicking leg and use it to jump backwards.
The kick to her thigh hurt, Riot couldn't deny that. If she hadn't already been in a stable stance it probably would have left her on her knees. Lips pulled back on a grimace she made her grab when the second kick didn't connect. Riot lunged, arms stretched out like she was going in for a giant bear hug.
Crimson got caught from the back while moving. Riot pinned her down on the floor. She tried to shift but to no avail. The missed kick left her completely open and Riot had the weight and skill to pin her down.
Crimson learnt what she needed. Riot was a good enough grappler. She might go over fighting armed opponents with her eventually but then again that was not why she was paying.
Crimson tapped the floor twice with her right paw “Time out. You did well. Now would you please let me stand up?”
For a moment what Bloodmoon said didn't quite register. Riot heard the words but they didn't process as she blinked quickly in a not-quite-all-there sort of daze. When her brain finally made sense of what she'd been asked she rested back quickly. Too quickly. Her arms pinwheeling Riot overcompensated and fell backwards, landing in an undignified heap. Untangling herself she just sat there on the floor and rubbed her neck sheepishly.
“I don't think I expected it to be over that quickly. Actually, this feels about right.” Arms splayed out she flopped back down then began to laugh. “Yep. On the floor. That was where I figured I'd end. So this makes sense.”
Crimson sat up and laughed lightly. “Eventually we all make it to the floor. You know how to fight and do it rather well, even for an unshifted shifter. We can, of course, teach you how to fight better, in a myriad of different ways”.
Crimson folded her legs, placed her jaw on her paw and her elbow leaning on her leg. “But I’m pretty sure you had other things in mind. So tell me now again, in your words, what it is it you want to learn? And do you have a time limit? We can build you a course to fit your needs”.
Crimson smiled lightly. It was just another business day. Sure, it was more fun than paperwork but business is business and her focus was to sell.
The snort that came from Riot at everyone making it to the floor would probably have gotten her scolded in the presence of some of the straight-laced nobles. It was nice to be around those who weren’t so high and mighty and impressed by their own station. Sitting back up she took a moment to organize her thoughts. What did she want to learn? She crossed her legs and leaned down on them, beginning to stretch as she spoke.
“I want to learn to be quiet. To be able to misdirect someone with one hand while doing something completely different with the other. I want to learn about poisons and antidotes and how to dispatch someone without it being traced back to me.” Going over her upcoming schedule in her mind she shook her head and shifted into another stretch leaning to each side.
“I don’t have a time limit that I’m aware of at the moment. Likely I’ll be dispatched somewhere at some point but I don’t know it yet.” Shaking out her arms and rolling her head on her neck Riot looked up and grinned. “Obviously I’d like to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can but you can’t rush good skills.”
Crimson ran some plans in her head. She could charge Riot ahead of time, but she won’t know how long she would stay herself, so she decided against it. She could charge her after a while per set amount of knowledge, but Riot could disappear one day without paying. That left Crimson with per-lesson payment, which worked fine with her.
She was satisfied with Riot’s answer. She could start with basic hand coordination and move to pickpocket and then meal poisoning.
“If you have time, we can start immediately with some hand movement techniques and over time move to more practical and more useful tricks. Getting away is something completely different. That is much more work both in studying theory and infield practice.
And you will have to realize we don’t just share this knowledge with anyone. We will start with what I said and if you keep up and keep paying I’ll consider teaching you the more... secretive and useful techniques you seek.
“Speaking of payment” Crimson leaned forward “If it’s alright with you I prefer per lesson payment. I trust you can provide?”
Riot all but jumped to her feet in excitement.
“Start now? Absolutely! Let's do it!” she shifted a little on the tips of her toes like one about to start a workout routine that had plenty of boxing in it, bouncing to keep her body moving and harder to hit. An inner voice told her she really needed to calm herself a maybe not act like a kit waiting for presents on their birthday so she tried to compose herself. Really though, she was excited. Everything was clicking together like puzzle pieces falling into place and Riot thanked Mazrim for this blessing.
At the mention of payment, Riot turned toward the light tunic she’d taken off earlier and set with her shifting stone and belt pouch. “I’m fine with payment per lesson. I don’t know if you want information or services or shards for this lesson. I have some shards on me if you’d like.”
“Easy there girl! I’ll go and fetch some things and check how much we’ll charge for this. You just hang here and I’ll be right back.”
Crimson jumped to her hooves and walked to her skirt and put it on. After rummaging quickly through the pouches to make sure everything was in place she swiftly made her way out of the door, only to comeback a second later “Oh, one more thing. I’m locking the door so no guild member will think of coming here just in case. If you hear a commotion outside, it’s probably nothing. Just try not to break through the door, we already had that happen once”. Crimson waved her goodbye and stepped back out, locking the doors behind her. It’s true that she didn’t want a guild member to enter and start conversations with the uninitiated Riot, fearing they might leak some info while thinking she is a guild member. But she also didn’t want Riot to venture out to explore her building.
The shifter could probably force her way out quite easily if she wanted too. “Shifter proof” doors are expensive and too heavy to have in a building like this, yet she hoped she was an actual student and not a spy or competing assassin. She really, really didn’t have the time to deal with a Silver incursion.
Not that she ever had the energy to deal with that sly bastard.
She eventually found one of her subordinates. And after discussion what she should charge with them and settled on a price, she walked back to the training hall and got some cups and small balls on the way back.
A long day of training ahead.
Nodding enthusiastically Riot waited as the door closed behind Bloodmoon and she heard the lock click. She didn’t wait patiently, but she waited. Pacing around the room she went through the memories of all the twists and turns she’d taken to get here; the attempts to learn on her own and information gathering she’d had to do to even get the smallest hint of the guild.
If there was noise outside the door Riot didn’t hear it, too wrapped up in her own thoughts. She would learn these skills and be an even more useful ambassador when she was sent out. The court didn’t need to know she had these skills. Likely they’d find out sooner or later, both courts had their own information networks that were quite good, and the time may come where she’d feel the need to tell someone within the upper ranks of the Mazri court if necessary, but for now she would keep this to herself. While she was sure that someone would understand her need to learn the assassins skills Riot didn’t want to deal with the headache that she knew would accompany that first discovery right now. This would improve her worth to the court and through that her usefulness to Mazrim himself.
Returning to the centre of the room, Riot sat back down, hands palm up on her knees, and began to breathe. In and out, slowly and evenly to calm her nerves and excitement. Meditating Riot waited for Bloodmoon’s return. She would need a clear mind and cool head so that she could do as well in these lessons as she did in her hand to hand combat and shifting lessons. They would be just as important to her future.
Crimson unlocked the door with one hand and balanced on the things she grabbed under the other.
She was glad to see Riot sitting calmly in the centre of the room. She took a quick glance around. The room was still in the way she left it.
Time for training.
“Yes, I think this should be enough”.
Riot proved to be a good and willing student. She still had a lot of training ahead of her, however. She had a good eye, but terrible memory for details. And while she could fight well, she did it with her entire body. Further down the line, she would need to practice a lot about separating body movements and keeping them small.
She took the small but packed pouch of shards gently yet swiftly from Riot’s offering paw. She undid the lace and checked in one last time with her eye before tying it back up and putting it in one of the pouches on her belt.
Crimson started to walk with Riot out of the doors and through the building, navigating slowly to the stairs that led down to the entrance.
“Now then, I will be seeing you in 5 days at the same time of day. I trust you’ll be able to find your way back?”
Filing away the directions they’d taken from the training room using some of the memory exercises she’d learned, Riot nodded.
“Yes ma’am. I think I have it this time.” It was what she said every time. The first few times she’d gotten turned around inside the warren-like building, but this time she was sure she had the route fixed firmly in place. Well, they’d find out in five days.
Bloodmoon was a fair instructor. If she did something incorrectly she was shown how to do it again properly, there was no humiliation or smacks to the head or anything that would have had Riot grinding her teeth. Her lessons were explained patiently and questions were answered with thought rather than brushed aside with sneers. She was treated as the adult, capable of learning a new set of skills that she was, rather than a child who had skipped an important lesson.
As she began the walk back to the section of town where the court lay, the large woolyne went over the day’s lesson in her head. Her route wandered as she turned the wrong way or doubled back, one of her first lessons in tracking and being, or not being, tracked. Her training was progressing, she wasn’t the quickest or the quietest, but she was quicker and quieter than she had been when she started. Riot knew she would never be the quickest or quietest but as long as she was improving, and as long as Bloodmoon said she was improving, she felt the pride of a good day’s work.
Crimson shut the door behind Riot and turned around back to the room of woolynes going about their day.
She walked over to an empty table, sat down and waved to the woolyne who was standing behind the bar at the edge of the room at present. Said, woolyne, who was pretty average looking with dark fur and faint hints of ginger spots here and there hurried to the kitchen to tell the cooks she would be having her usual.
Crimson got used many years ago to the woolynes who did their best to not stare at the guild leader as she walked among them. She never took to the idea of courts and their separation of staff and guests. She was a person like anybody else. The only differences were skill, hard work, time and some luck.
She got the pouch of shards out of the pouch on her belt and began counting the shards once more.
After she was done with the counting and the meal, she headed up to the accountant’s office and tossed them her pouch with the shards and how much she counted was in. She also told them to add Riot to the client list both as a potential employer and a part-time student.
Up next she went down to the record books and started adding Riot to the list unknown figures.
When she was done, she left the file on the front desk for the librarian to find and place on the right shelf or in the right drawer.
Finally, she reached her office once more and sat down on her chair.
After all, there was always the paperwork.