If there was one thing that Grace had learned about her brother's family since meeting them, it was that they took their morning workouts very seriously. She was certain that was because of the nature of 47's job and that the threat the Organization presented. After all, there was no sense in giving an enemy any advantage and she had seen the sort of no-holds-barred sort of fighting that the children's bodyguards were teaching them. That was why she led her father, Mathew, and Greg down to the salle as soon as they woke up, rather than trying to search the mansion for her brother's family.
At one time the large building had been a private dance studio for some rich man's daughter, who no doubt had dreamed about becoming a ballerina. The building still reflected its original purpose. The real red oak floor was sanded smooth enough that it felt like silk against bare feet. The walls still retained several practice bars of varying heights and one long wall of floor to ceiling mirrors. Clestory windows provided the majority of the available light, although electric lights were hidden around the building to provide any extra light that might be needed. Now this was where her nieces and nephews did their morning workouts and had their lessons in self-defense.
What she didn't expect to find was little Demyan charging his father and being thrown gently onto a mat, laughing his head off the entire time. The twins were next, followed by Alexander and Nadine. Grace noticed that as each child was tossed, the older they were, the more force 47 used. Although she wouldn't say that 47 threw Nadine anywhere near as hard as he could, it certainly wasn't the gentle toss he had given Demyan either.
"The first thing you learn is how to fall," Nika said. The group in the doorway of the salle looked over to where she was sitting on the floor with Eric, and she gestured for them to join her. "Learning how to fall properly prevents injuries, or so I'm told. Personally I prefer the dirty tricks to falling over and over on my ass." This was said with a grin.
"I would prefer that you never had to use either, but I'm not that foolish," 47 said. Grace noticed that he hadn't taken his attention of off what he was doing. Apparently the throwing session was only the warm up because each of the children then moved over to where their particular adult, (it wasn't just the bodyguards that Grace had gotten to know over the last few days) started them on what they were learning for the day. Crotch shots, nerve points and eye jabs seemed to be on the addenda for the day as each child was shown how to get away from a full grown man who had grabbed, or was attempting to grab, them.
47 stood up and gestured someone forward. To Grace's surprise it was Tony. 47 took him off to the side and the two men began sparring. It looked as though 47 was putting him through his paces, learning what Tony knew. She hoped that the two men could get along. Tony had been a friend of their family's for years. He was the person that she'd based her main character on, although she'd made her character far more arrogant than Tony had ever been in her presence.
"You have got to see the look on Tony's face when those two met," Greg snickered in her ear. He passed her his phone.
"What happened?" she asked. The looks on the men's faces were very clear in Greg's pictures.
"It seems that your brother has a lot of professional pride," David chuckled. "He called Tony a talented amateur."
"That's nothing," Nika laughed. "It's been ten years since we met and he's still more pissed off about the fact that the people setting him up told the world that he missed a shot than the fact that they were trying to kill him."
47 abruptly dropped Tony, turned and stalked over to his wife. "I haven't missed a shot since I was about ten," he growled. He snatched up the drink she was holding out to him.
"Of course not," she said matter-of-factly. "I just think it's funny that you're more upset about that than them trying to kill you."
"Kill us," he reminded her. "And having someone try to kill me is simply a hazard of the job."
Nika shrugged and took back the bottle of water. "As long as I don't end up in the trunk of a car with another dead body, I'm fine with it. It's in the past, over and done with and truthfully I do owe whoever it was." 47 cocked his eyebrow at her.
"If they hadn't used me to set you up, I never would have met you," Nika pointed out. "And that does not bear thinking about."
47 had been thinking about making a joke about putting her back into a trunk without a body anytime she wished but her comment on owing the Organization for introducing them made him pause. In a strange, roundabout way, Nika was right. Not meeting her did not bear thinking about. Perhaps he should go a little easier on one member of the Brotherhood in thanks – just not 13, the man responsible for almost getting her killed. Whatever he might have said was interrupted by Townsend entering the salle and announcing that breakfast was ready.
The children ran out of the salle and the adults hurried after them, making way for a new group moving in. Due to the now increased number of family members, the room where the family ate had changed from the smaller room near the kitchen to the formal dining room. Normally it wasn't used much, just for the dinner parties that Nika had to give, but it was as warm and welcoming as she could make it. For 47, seeing the room filled with the members of his family was as startling as finding out that he had actually had a family had been in the first place. Calmly he sat Nika down beside his seat as everyone else found a place to sit. The children were all gathered around Nadine's chair, looking at the stack of presents that were in front of her chair instead of a plate. "Daddy?" she asked, confused. It wasn't unusual for 47 to bring gifts back from his trips, but they were usually saved up for Christmas and birthdays as neither Nika nor 47 wished for their children to be spoiled.
"You've earned it," was 47's only response. Nika's eyes widened as she realized what he meant – he'd brought Nadine back a real gun of some kind just liked they'd talked about after they'd found out she was pregnant again.
With wide eyes Nadine tore into the biggest present while the adults got the rest of the kids into chairs and served. She gasped out loud as she realized exactly what was in the package and she jumped down out of her chair and ran over to hug her father. "THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" she babbled, trying to squeeze the air out of her dad.
As was his habit, 47 kept a close watch on his surroundings, so he was prepared for her assault. "As I said, you've earned it, Nadine. The ammunition is down at the firing range. We'll go down there and get you started after breakfast."
"Thank you Daddy!" she said again and hurried back to her seat. "Thank you, Aunt Grace," she said as her aunt handed her a plate of food.
47 interrupted her as she started to eat her breakfast in a hurry. "You might want to open the rest of your packages first. They go with your rifle." Nadine stopped with her fork in her mouth, obviously having been so intent on her new weapon that she'd forgotten all about the other packages.
"So how'd she earn that?" David asked, watching his granddaughter tear her way through the rest of the packages. She was so happy that she looked like she was about to explode, and although he wasn't sure that the rifle was a good idea for her, he knew that he didn't know enough about anything that went on around here to object.
"She knows the safety rules well enough to be able to recite them half asleep and she's very careful when she helps me to clean my weapons. She's also very aware that the only –"
"Reason for a gun of any kind is to kill," Nika and their older children recited along with him. Demyan tried, but most of it was unintelligible with his mouth full of scrambled eggs. "Don't talk with your mouth full, Demyan," 47 said calmly. "Once you're proficient with the rifle, Nadine, I'll take you hunting."
"Rabbits?" she asked eagerly while her brother groaned. "What? I like rabbit stew the way Mrs. Townsend makes it," she glared at Alexander.
"We'll see what season it is when you're ready to start," 47 told them to stop the impending argument.
Keep of the Brotherhood
Castles and Keeps are a common sight throughout Europe, both those that have been restored to majestic splendor and those that are marked only by a few crumbling ruins. One small keep in central Europe has had the distinction of being occupied by the same group of monks since it was first built. The fact that the church no longer recognized them was of no importance to any of the monks who lived there. The Brotherhood was dedicated to ridding the world of men who gave themselves to evil. They had been selected from among the boys their organization trained to be assassins more because they had the proper attitude for monks than because of their expertise in killing – with the sole exception of their ruling council.
Thirteen of the deadliest assassins in the world sat around the large table that filled the tiny keep's great hall. They ignored the chill in the air that the fires in the fireplaces on each end of the hall tried valiantly to dispel, focusing on their work. They did not meet like this often, perhaps four times per year were they all in residence at the same time, but this was an emergency. For the first time since the exile, people who were not looking to hire one of their men knew about them, and they were all here to try and minimize the damage.
"Do you truly believe that an open contract on the boys and any family they might have found is the correct course of action to take care of that aspect of this situation?" 8 asked 13 carefully. He had no wish to provoke the other assassin. 13 was well known for having the temper of a viper – lethal, and quick to strike at any perceived attacks.
"They are a distraction," 13 replied coldly. "While the hordes of amateurs are making nuisances of themselves, forcing the public authorities to concentrate on them, the trainers, procurers, and other staff member of the training center are being dealt with." No one mentioned the hit on 47 and his family. They all knew about it and carefully ignored it. 13 hated 47. No one knew why, and quite frankly no one on the council really cared. They all had people on their personal hit lists that were there for personal reasons rather than professional ones. As long as any money spent on those open contracts came out of 13's personal coffers, no one would object either. "What about the handler staff?"
"Seventy five percent accounted for – either in prison awaiting trials, or retired. Some of the remaining twenty five percent have joined at least one of their agents for protection, a few have brought more than one together. The rest are being tracked as we speak." 4 offered. "They should be accounted for by the end of the week."
"And our agents?" 1 asked. "We should not waste their training. It will take time to rebuild our reserve of agents in training."
"Fifty percent accounted for," 10 admitted. "They will take longer to track down. Some are beginning to … ask questions."
A subtle coldness descended on the group. Questions were never something that could be allowed, under any circumstances. "You know what to do in that case," 1 said coldly. "6, have you selected a new site for the training center?" Six nodded and began briefing the rest of the council on the rebuilding process, down to the smallest detail. Nothing could be overlooked this time.