I think the main reason I wrote this was to give Howl more play than she got in the RP ... Unfortunately, her main encounter there pretty well took her out of the game entirely. Also, I ended up giving Pacheco more play than Howl, so I guess we can consider it a colossal failure. XD

The Job's The Thing
Killing, killing. It seemed like her entire life had become a constantly repeating film -- the adrenaline rush, the satisfying splash of blood, the last, fading breath. Death and fighting and death again. If she wasn't slaughtering for her own pleasure, she was murdering on someone else's orders, and no one had challenged her in months.

It might have had something to do with the fact that the last one wound up with his brains and entrails decorating a twenty-foot spread of the coliseum grounds. Really, since when were gladiatorial fighters such gutless cowards? The Arena was failing to amuse her, and as gloomy as the idea was, she was beginning to think it was high time to move on.

Particularly since she had no interest in becoming Cardinal David Pacheco's pet assassin. Her eyes flickered with an irritable emotion -- as hard as she fought to keep them alert and cool, their peculiar coloration lent itself to livelier emotions. Orangy brown and warm blue were hardly the proper colors for an assassin's eyes. If she smiled just right, however, they became an integral part of an edged expression that had yet to fail at unnerving her opponents.

She tossed her thick, dark-silver hair and paced. Late again. The man would have to learn manners if he was to continue using her services. An object lesson might be in order.

At long last, the key clicked in the doorway, and she pulled up her hood and faded into the shadows. Careless of her to drop it at all, really.

He was with his usual complement of four personal guards, all of whom were armed with their usual, ineffectual complement of swords. With a lazy smile, she shot them one after another -- head, chest, heart, stomach -- and was somewhat disappointed to see that her client failed to even bat an eye. He stepped over the bodies in his way, one of which was still writhing a little, and seated himself at the table.

"If you're quite finished," he said comfortably. "I had a number of pressing matters to attend to, one of which involved the object of our current transaction, so you'll have to pardon me for being late."

She trained her pistol on him wistfully for a moment, then holstered it and dropped back into the visible spectrum. "Feh," she said, and she seated herself across from him. When she spoke, she carefully injected a note of boredom into her voice, just as fair warning that she was tired of his silly games. "What is it now, Pacheco?"

He missed it completely. "Lovely of you to actually grant me the glory of visibility," he remarked. "Given this cloak of mystery is complete vanity on your part. I know who you are and what you look like."

"What's the job, Pacheco?" she growled, ruthlessly quashing the tendril of unease he was attempting to worm into her mind. The last person who knew her name was thoroughly dead. She'd seen to that.

"Impatient, impatient." He looked at her coldly, all levity fading from his lined face. She wondered for a moment just how old the man was, but she pushed the thought away as he continued to speak. "I have another staging for you -- somewhat in the vein of the last one, though I trust this will be carried out more to my satisfaction."

"Your man botched the last one, Pacheco," she snapped, pushing away the prickle of temper that had her fingers clenching slowly around her gun. "I carried out my orders as instructed, and I took my pay."

"So you did," he replied evenly, lacing his fingers on the table before him. "But this time, there's no middleman. The game's all yours, Howl, and the stakes are higher."

A smile quirked her mouth. "You have my attention." And, truthfully, he did. The cardinal always did play it a bit too safe for her liking. Try to keep a grip on too many details, and it'd all come apart in the end. Just like that last job. He'd nearly docked her pay for it, until she convinced him at gunpoint the mess was entirely Bailey's damn fault.

"I thought I might." She leaned back and waited for him to continue, and he did so, amusement twitching at the edge of his mouth. "You see, my dear, we're suddenly in need of a new captain of the guard -- he's become a bit of a thorn lately. He's apparently too intelligent to be kept completely in the dark, as we've been attempting, and he's entirely too noble to be useful."

A number of ironic, sarcastic, and just plain irritable responses sprang to her mind, but she refrained from voicing them, settling for a bland, "That doesn't surprise me."

"We could have had him last time," Pacheco muttered, half to himself, "but it came apart before we even had the chance."

That didn't surprise her, either. "Your plans are too complex. You play too much." She shrugged. "My plan is simple. Point and shoot."

"Not this time," the cardinal said nastily, drawing one of his hands into a fist and striking it against the table. "I trust you've trained in heavier weaponry than that." He gestured to her pistol, and she clenched her hand on it defensively.

"I've trained in every weapon known to man," she said shortly, "and some man's never conceived of."

Pacheco's skeptical snort gave her an idea what he thought of that claim, but she didn't respond, more concerned with what damn fool scheme he had cooked up for her to play a part in.

"Good," he said, "because you'll be using a broadsword."

She gave him a mutinous glare, glad he couldn't see underneath her heavy cowl. She hated broadswords. Damned graceless, cumbersome weapons. More particularly, she hated being told how to do her job. "I'm not an actor in your play, Pacheco," she growled. "A pistol shot will kill him faster and cleaner, and no one will know the difference."

"But a pistol shot won't cause the chaos that a broadsword will, my dear," he replied pleasantly. "You see, he may command loyalty, respect, and admiration, but the young woman he's taken to consorting with does not. I would like him out of my way and her back where I can watch her closely."

"The crazy dragon bitch?"

"The very same." He smiled, and she found the expression most unpleasant. "Her connection to the dragon could be useful to me in the future."

Howl decided not to give him her personal opinion on that point.

"You understand my reasoning, then?" he questioned her silence.

"I'm not that thick, Pacheco." She rose. "I want double my usual for this farce."


She spat on the table. "If I had to bet on it, I'd wager this will go about the same as the last one."

"You're quite welcome to your opinion," he replied, chilly stare deepening. "But if I come to understand you played a part in the game's supposedly inevitable demise, I would suggest you walk very softly."

She laughed at him before she could stop herself. Threats. From a human who couldn't even take care of his own business, no less.

He waited patiently until she had finished, then rose to his feet, the unpleasant smile flickering back to life. "You would be surprised at what I know and can do, Bella Farsee."

She froze in place.

"Good night, then." He swept out of the room without another word, regally ignoring the pistol suddenly aimed at his heart. "Don't forget to clean up your mess. It upsets the guards so."

When the door closed behind him, she slammed her gun back into its holsters and kicked one of the chairs, shattering it against the far wall. She stood still for a moment, thinking rapidly over their conversaiton. Perhaps Pacheco and all his scheming made for a more interesting opponent than she had suspected.

Whatever the case, she wouldn't underestimate him again. Too damned embarrassing.