AN: This is the next chapter and I'm glad to everyone is liking it. Chapters will most likely come out once every five days or so for now, mainly because its still hard to type with a broken arm. Please review at the end of the chapters, because they make me smile and enjoy this next chapter.
Mandatory Warnings and Disclaimers: This is a story about assassins and their jobs, as well as about superheroes and their jobs. There be massive amounts of violence ahead, so be wary of disturbing imagery both spoken by the assassins and committed by the assassins. This is a slash story and will be TonyxOC, CoulsonxClint and PepperxNatasha. Please be warned for the following triggers: Minor Character Death(Off-Screen), discussion of the crime of Rape, Murder and Assault, Semi-Graphic Depictions and/or Descriptions of Violence, sensitive emotional issues and slash. This is the censored version. All have been warned. If any of this squicks you, please skip those parts. I don't not own any publicly recognizable characters. Major and Minor OCs belong to myself, as well as the plot.
Thank you for reading and heeding this Mandatory Warnings and Disclaimers announcement. Enjoy the story and please review.
On a cold and snowy night, in the January of Tony's eighth year, Alexander came to a decision. The Order left it up to the Mentors when to reveal the true purpose of their student's training when they thought they were ready. Alexander knew Tony was brilliant, of that there was no doubt, but he had reserves about telling someone not even eight years old they were training to be an assassin. Now, only a few months away from his student's ninth birthday, and only a single month away from the day they'd head for the Assassin's Den, where Tony and the rest of his class would begin hardcore training, Alexander knew that the time was then.
And so, after the Stark household had broken from dinner, Alexander went up to his room and pulled a small wooden case about the size of a text book out of his dresser drawer. He held it close and walked down the steps slowly. Maria and Tony were sitting in the living room, watching the evening news and Alexander could hear the crackling of the fire from the study, and he knew where Howard was. He padded into the study, socked feet silent on the hardwood, and cleared his throat.
"Mister Stark?" He asked. The set of Howard's shoulders tensed. Howard had told Alexander to call him by his first name after his first week, and Alexander only addressed him as "Mister Stark" if something was wrong or something serious had come up.
"The last time you called me that, Tony had fallen out of that tree and broken his arm. What is it, Alexander?" Howard asked, looking up from his desk. Howard had aged since Alexander had arrived some five and half years ago. His hair was now more salt than pepper and the earthen brown of his eyes had become muddier with exhaustion.
Alexander held up the case. "It's time, Mister Stark." He said softly. Howard nodded stiffly, eyes tightening. This was the make or break point for Tony. If he rejected the training, Alexander would leave immediately and Tony would be under surveillance for the rest of his life to make sure he didn't give Alexander away. Howard rose from his desk.
"I'll let you use this room. I'll send him in." Alexander nodded and moved to one of the high backed chairs in front of the fire. There was movement behind him and then the patter of small feet on the ground. Tony flung himself into the chair across from him with a smile. Alexander grinned back.
"What's up Alexander?" Tony chirped.
"Well, Lille Valpen, you and I need to have a conversation. You are very smart, Tony, and I'm sure you've noticed what I teach you is not what other children your age are taught." Tony nodded, though his eyes had narrowed and he was holding himself straight and attentive. Alexander brought the case to sit on the small table between the chairs and he opened it carefully.
Inside, resting on dark crimson velvet, was a mask. Tony had no idea what it was made of, but it looked strong, though the ebony paint bore the marks of use in the form of scratches, almost like scars, all across it. The crimson outlines, lain ever-so-carefully in a pattern, formed the striped, feline face of what Tony recognized as a tiger. The muzzle of the mask rose away from the rest of the face, and artistic whisker-like lines of crimson sat upon it. Tony lay a careful hand upon it and shivered lightly.
"I want to tell you a story Tony. The story of a man, long ago, in a land far across the sea..."
Hours later, when Alexander finished, he and Tony sat silently in the study. The maid had brought in hot chocolate for both and Alexander's sat empty, while Tony still clutched his own mug, staring sightlessly into the fire. The mask was sitting in his lap and occasionally he would look down at it.
"Assassins?" He asked, voice strangely quiet.
"Yes. Our Aak, the Guide of the Order, she chooses the novices every five years. Your father has many dealings with the government, and that brought her gaze upon you. She, and I and even the others who have met you, see great promise in you." But Alexander's words seemed to fall flat in on themselves as Tony kept staring blankly at his cup. After a time, Tony spoke.
"Are we done?" He asked.
Alexander took the mask off of Tony's lap and the young man set his mug on the table before settling on his feet. "I'm going to bed." He announced flatly, his voice devoid of his usual enthusiasm. Alexander bit his lip. Had he broken Tony's trust in everyone around him? They'd known something of such massive gravity and hid it from him and, no matter that's they'd withheld the information for the boy's own good, it was still a blow.
"Alright, Lille Valpen. We'll talk in the morning. Sleep well." Alexander said as Tony turned on his heels and headed for the door.
For the first time in over five years, Tony went to bed without saying goodnight to anyone and, with that, Alexander knew the next few days were going to be rough.
Much as Alexander feared, Tony was silent and distant for almost a week after their conversation. He constantly appeared to be deep in thought, oftentimes running into things like walls and furniture. He continued to exercise every morning as well as practice his archery and his afternoons were filled with the homework Alexander left him on the table at breakfast. He helped his father in the workshops in the evenings and watched the news with his mother. Jarvis made sure Tony had what he wanted and needed at all times, though it was hardly a chore as Tony, just shy of nine years old, was almost completely self-sufficient when it came to everything except doing his own laundry and cooking his own meals.
Throughout it all, Alexander remained, a quiet presence in the house. There, and yet, at the same time, not there.
Finally on the sixth day since their conversation, a particularly dark, windy and all around horrid day outside, Tony ambled into the den where Alexander was tending his own bow, two steaming mugs in his hands. He set one on the table in front of Alexander, between his oil and his quiver, and kept the other for himself, easing onto the couch next to Alexander's chair. There were several moments of silence before Tony spoke.
"Assassins." He said, though this time the word was a statement, rather than a question. Alexander lay his bow carefully on the table and grabbed his mug before easing himself back into his own chair. Nodding softly, Alexander's green eyes met the light hazel eyes of his students. Tony seemed to mull something over for a minute before he spoke.
"I get why and I get how. But the who. Kids. My age. I'm only eight years old." He said. Alexander twitched. Sometimes having a genius for a student sucked. While Tony had much to learn in academics and such, the boy was an emotional compass, his time at his father's parties and meetings attuning him to human emotions morals. It was kind of creepy how insightful he was.
"Yes. The Order, no, we the mentors and the Aak herself believe that if we introduce both the doctrine of the Order and of assassins as well as normal childhood lessons into our students early enough, they have a chance at returning to normal society when they decide to retire. But even then, one must remember that no one ever really leaves the Order. If they don't die in action, they generally stop taking assignments after five or six years. Some take up jobs at the Den, some go into the workforce and some do both."
"What do you do?" Tony asked, drinking from his cup and watching Alexander closely. Alexander smiled and ran his free hand through his hair before he answered.
"I'm an accountant for the Order, your mentor and I officially retired from my position of "Hunter" four months ago. I went to college for two years, and I was active with the Order from my fifteenth year to my twenty-second. Now, on top of teaching you, I handle the finances of the Order with three other people. We make sure the assassin's get paid after their assignments and that the Order has enough money for what they need to buy from outside sources."
Tony was nodding quietly, fingers playing idly over the smooth ceramic of his mug, and Alexander almost grinned when he recognized the mathematical equations for the Archer's Paradox for weather similar to today's. "I want to. I mean...I can always change my mind later, right? You won't kill me if I decide to quit?" He asked.
Alexander shook his head. "No, you can quit at any time. If you quit before you complete any assignments, you sign a lot of paperwork that basically says if you tell about the Order, they'll take everything you own. Every last red cent. If you've completed any assignments, then you just retire." Tony was nodding slowly, his brain processing everything he was being told. At this stage, he and Howard were pretty sure Tony had the mental capacity of someone twice his age or more. Finally, Tony nodded once in assurance.
Three weeks later, Tony was helping Alexander load bags into the cargo hold of a small private plane. He'd said goodbye to his parents over an hour ago, his mother in tears and Howard sending him off with a firm hand on his shoulder and the assurance that Tony would make him proud, no matter the outcome. Tony had packed most of his belongings, clothes, books on engineering from his father, a dark blue knit blanket from his mother and his bow case into a duffel and a backpack
Alexander finished loading the bags and closed and locked the hatch before leading Tony up the stairs and into the cabin of the plane. The plane, a model of his father's own design, was lavishly appointed and both mentor and student sank into the comfortable chairs with audible sighs. They buckled up when indicated, sat through the take-off protocols delivered to them by a man in his thirties, and accepted the drinks when the same flight attendant came around ten minutes after they were in the air.
It took just over five and a half hours before the plane landed at the airstrip near Lake Margaret in northern Alberta, Canada and in that time, Alexander reviewed the Archer's Paradox with Tony, taught him the Archer's Prayer until he had it memorized and went over what would occur when they reached the Den. Tony slept the last hour and a half and, after they'd set down on the tarmac at the airstrip, Alexander gently woke Tony and both disembarked from the plane.
A ways away from the tarmac, both could make out a small group of people milling about what appeared to be three wagons, all of which were hitched to two massive horses each. Tony and Alexander grabbed their belongings and moved over to the group, which Tony recognized as Robert, Brad and Anatassia, as well as their mentors. Anatassia was a red-headed spitfire of a girl from Siberia and Tony, Brad and Robert thought she was pretty awesome.
Anatassia, an orphan, was discovered when she attempted to pickpocket her mentor, and almost succeeded, even only at age two. Her mentor, a gruff, but kindly Japanese teenager by the name of Hatsuharu, had volunteered to retire early and mentor the little girl, even after only four active years. Now, the four exchanged quick high-fives while Tony threw his bags in the last wagon in the line.
Anatassia had only begun visiting the Stark household the year before, as her unusual adoption had made procuring her papers legally nigh on impossible. But finally, after six years stuck in Siberia with her mentor, she had free traveling rights. When she'd first shown up in the middle of Brad and Robert's usual visit nine months ago, the boys had at first been wary. But Anatassia fit right in and now the four of them were attached at the hip.
Now, the four of them were in their own little bubble, which slowly expanded as more students arrived with their mentors until the group numbered fifteen students. They were talking animatedly, so absorbed were they in their own conversations with each other about the upcoming events that, when one of the mentor's whistled sharply to get their attention, every last student jumped about a foot in the air, much to the amusement of their teachers.
"Alright." The mentor shouted and the students turned to face her. "I want every last one of you in the front wagon. Don't lean over the edges, don't play with the hatches on the back please. We don't want anyone falling over. It's cold and it's snowy. If you get cold, use the buffalo lap robes so you don't freeze. The path is steep and icy, please don't distract your drivers. There will be plenty of time to ask questions later. Good?"
There was a resounding cry of "Yes, Ma'am!" from the students and, one by one, they piled into the large wagon. The wagon box was padded with hay and pelts and, stacked against the end underneath the driver's seat was another pile of pelts, these much softer and warmer looking. These were passed around and draped over laps and wrapped around shoulders while Alexander and another mentor closed and latched the back of the wagon.
Tony shared two lap robes with Anatassia, one over their laps and the other wrapped around their shoulders while across from them so did Rob and Brad. Students huddled together in groups of twos and threes, wrapped up in the pelts, and their animated conversations seemed to warm them against the harsh Canadian winter that swirled around them.
The mountain path leading upwards was winding and the wagons kept a steady pace through the afternoon until, an hour after leaving the airstrip, the wagons pulled up in front of what looked to be a hunting lodge. The students rose to their feet in excitement, and slight confusion, and milled about in the wagon box until Alexander and Hatsuharu released the latch on the back. The students jumped out and moved towards the last wagon in the line again, grabbing out their bags.
Tony grabbed his duffel and backpack and padded over to where Alexander was standing next to the other mentors, Brad and Anatassia right behind him. Once all the students were standing in a group the teachers ushered them up the stairs and into the lodge, the directly over to the fireplace.
Tony and his fellow classmates were looking at the fireplace in confusion until one of the mentors, a young woman with blonde hair and snappy green eyes, pressed one of the bricks. There was a groaning sound of stone on stone and the fireplace moved backwards and then to the side. Revealed to them was a massive stone passage, lit brightly by overhead lights. The path went straight for a few yards before sloping downwards.
"Oh wow!" Tony gasped, eyes lighting up in awe. Anatassia looked at him in confusion so Tony elaborated for her. "The den is built into the mountain! I've only heard about this in books!" He could barely contain his excitement as he looked around him, already calculating how large the den was and how far back the tunnels were. Tony looked up as Alexander placed a firm hand on his shoulder, smiling.
"Where do you think those authors got the idea, Lille Valpen?" Alexander squeezed his shoulder before he led the group down the path. The students were strangely quiet as they were led down the passage and into a large anteroom. The anteroom was large and almost circular, with four more passages leading away from it. The students dropped their bags and looked around them awe.
Moving with ease and grace through the hall were kids only a few years older than they themselves were, dressed in white, loose-fitting tunics and pants. Some wore socks and sandals or boots, but a majority were barefoot. Among them were teenagers and young adults dressed in a black version of the tunic and pants, with crimson bordering.
But what most of the students found amazing were the assassins that moved silently through the hall. They were dressed in the black and crimson clothes of the others, sleeveless hooded tabards fluttering as they walked. They were armed, some with guns, some with blades and one noticeable woman, horned deer mask hanging from a loop on her belt, carrying a deadly looking spear.
Tony was astounded. These were people, just like him, trained from when they were children to be this deadly. This is what he training for. This was what he was going to be doing someday. Tony shivered minutely as he felt a wave of nerves flash through him. What if he failed? What if he screwed up? He bit his lip tightly, jumping when he felt a soft hand on his elbow.
"Something wrong, 'Nio?" Anatassia asked, her voice quiet. Tony shook his head, smiling softly as her. Anatassia had been calling him Antonio since day one, even though she knew his name was Anthony, and he took it as a sign of affection, even moreso when she shortened it down to "'Nio".
"No, I'm fine, 'Tass." He mumbled. Anatassia nodded and Brad and Robert thumped him on the back. The other kids were looking almost as nervous as he was and he felt a little better about it. Now that they were standing in front of the mentors, who were lined up in ranks with Alexander standing at the front. The other people had stopped to stare at the proceedings, most smiling in anticipation of what was about to happen.
Alexander whistled sharply and all noise in the anteroom stopped, attention immediately turning towards him. "Drop your bags against the wall and rank up, three across and five deep." He ordered, voice quiet and deep, but holding authority. The students scrabbled to obey and, once they were lined up as ordered, Alexander nodded in approval.
"I want to take this chance to welcome you all to the assassin's den. The Raan Do Sivaas has been using this den for over two hundred years and now you have become a part of that tradition. On this day, you officially become novices. We're going to step up your training now, and soon, you'll be assassins in your own right. I guess there's only one last thing to say." Alexander grinned, thrilled, his actions echoed by the mentors behind him.
"Welcome to the den of The Beasts."