The streets of New Orleans were practically deserted. It was far too cold for the majority of the city's inhabitants to venture out of their homes, especially at night. Winter, complete with snowstorms, hail, ice and bitterly cold temperatures, didn't often make its way down to the Big Easy, but this year was different. This year, Jack Frost hit New Orleans and hit it hard, dumping snow and ice everywhere, and dropping the temperatures to a level the fun-loving Cajuns didn't know how to deal with.
Marius Boudreaux, esteemed patriarch of the legendary New Orleans Assassins Guild, trudged along the streets, snow up to his knees in most places and his waist in others. His black coat flapped around him in the cold, blustery wind, but Marius didn't seem to care overmuch. With one gloved hand he tried to shield his eyes so he'd be able to see, but it was more than a little difficult.
Marius paused at one point, to allow the woman who was accompanying him to catch up. "Mattie, tell me 'gain why you're draggin' me out here in dis weather?"
Mattie Baptiste, spiritual healer and mother figure to the people in Marius' guild as well as their rivals, the Thieves Guild, was having a harder time getting through the snow drifts than her companion, but she didn't complain. Tante Mattie never complained about anything, especially if it involved work. A little hard work never hurt anyone, in her opinion. In her colorful outfit and dangly earrings which seemed to sparkle everytime a snowflake got near them, the old woman caught up to Marius and gave him a stern look.
"You don' need me to remind you, Marius Boudreaux." She scolded. "You're a better person dan mos' t'ink, an' you can help dem. Dey know it an' you know it. So keep walkin'. Not far now, y'know."
Marius sighed. "I know...I know. But what will de Guild t'ink...?"
Tante Mattie slapped his arm, only half-playfully. Both Marius and the thieves' patriarch, Jean-Luc LeBeau, were very good at trying her patience, and even worse, they both knew it. "De Guild don' need to know, first of all, an' even if dey did find out, who cares? Tell 'em to come talk to me if dey got a problem wit' what you're doin' tonight."
Marius sighed again and kept walking in silence, with Tante Mattie by his side as best as she could keep up. Soon, they were at their destination: an alleyway in between two buildings, deep into Thieves Guild territory. Marius knew that one of the buildings housed the Antiquary's clan and contained rooms full of research and books. He would have asked why the rest of the thieves didn't just move into the building until the winter passed, but he already knew the answer. One of the things he and Jean-Luc agreed on was how much they hated the Antiquary. Marius knew that his rival would never go to the Antiquary for anything, even if the entire Thieves Guild was dying. He admired that in Jean-Luc.
The sound of sneezing met them, startling Marius. It was coming from the alley. "Mon dieu...didn' t'ink it was possible for it to be colder up here..." A voice said once the sneezing fit had subsided.
"Henri...?" Tante Mattie asked.
The young man emerged from the alley. "Oui." He confirmed, sniffling. He nodded at Marius in greeting and then chuckled. "Bonjour, Monsieur Boudreaux. You didn' order all dis cold weather an' snow an' stuff, did you?"
Marius looked sympathetic towards the thief. Henri was Jean-Luc's son and was the same age as Marius' own son, Julien. "Non, I certainly didn', Henri. I don' like it any more'n you do."
"Bon. Well Papa sent me up to meet you, so why don' we go down?" Henri's teeth were chattering.
Marius followed Henri and Tante Mattie down what looked like a manhole near the back of the alley. It got considerably damper and colder as they went underground, Marius noticed. Water was dripping everywhere and freezing as it hit the ground. "Be careful. Kinda like a skatin' rink down here in places." Henri warned. Deep down, he would have loved to watch the assassin fall flat on his face on a patch of ice, but he kept his wishes to himself.
They walked along a series of intricate tunnels which would normally be lit by candles along the walls but were dark now. None of the candles were lit. Marius started to wonder why, but Tante Mattie sensed the question and answered it for him. "Too much water. Dey don' stay lit for long." Marius nodded and was glad Henri had a flashlight. It was the only light they had.
Finally, the trio reached the main section of rooms in the middle of the tunnels and rooms. Marius was amazed at how much of the area beneath the city was used by the thieves, and he knew he hadn't seen all of it, nor would he. Most of the members of the Thieves Guild were in the main area of rooms, which Marius knew were the rooms occupied normally by Jean-Luc and his immediate family. It looked very crowded, but in spite of all the bodies in the room, it wasn't warm at all. In fact, it was downright freezing.
"Welcome, Marius." Jean-Luc said through shivers.
"Jean-Luc." Marius nodded. He looked at the fireplace. It was dark. "Won' stay lit?" He asked.
Jean-Luc sighed. "None of dem will. Kinda like de candles. Too much water, ice an' snow 'round here dese days. I've never seen de likes of dis. If it don' warm up soon..."
Marius understood without having to hear the rest of the sentence. The thieves were freezing to death. He looked around at the assembled group. Most of them were ill, all were very cold. Marius could see that nothing they were trying as a means of getting warmth into their bodies was working. He glanced at Tante Mattie. She nodded. They had a job to do.
"Mattie...perhaps if you can get de stove goin' an' make some gumbo or soup for dem..." Marius suggested. The healer nodded again and went to try and get some food prepared.
Tante Mattie had brought Marius with her for a reason. Like all the assassins, Marius had been given mutant-like powers by Candra the External, who was benefactress of both guilds. Essentially, she tapped into dormant mutant genes in the assassins and brought the powers forward, but they didn't realize that. They looked upon their powers as gifts given to them by her, in return for their tithe, and that was the only explanation they required. And one of Marius' powers was rather useful during the cold of winter.
Marius was essentially a heat generator. He was never cold, no matter where he went. His body radiated with heat almost all the time, especially his hands. He had joined Tante Mattie to give some of that heat to the suffering thieves.
Marius looked around the group again and saw exactly where he was going to start. He knew none of them realized his power; he also knew they were eying him warily. They didn't like him being there, and some were even angry at their patriarch for asking Tante Mattie to bring him with her. He wanted to prove to them that he wasn't there to harm them, but rather to help. Even if it was just once.
He walked over to where Belize Marceaux and Francois Lapin were sitting, each holding a small, sleeping boy in their arms. Marius knew the two thieves fairly well, and knew that the two little boys were their sons. Nearby, Belize's older son, Theoren, was sitting with Pierre Alouette and Claude Potier, all three of them trying to ease the shivers of Pierre's son Genard, who was older than the two little ones.
Smiling as nicely as he knew how, Marius looked at Belize. "May I see him for a moment?" He asked.
Both Belize and Theoren glared. Belize held the shivering two-year-old Etienne closer to his chest. "Why?" He asked in return.
"Relax, I'm not gon' hurt him, Belize. It's obvious he's cold. I want to prove to you all dat I'm here to help. Please? I promise you he will not be harmed."
Hesitantly, Belize obliged, and handed Etienne to the assassin. Marius chuckled as he saw Theoren reaching for a knife. "I said, relax, Theoren, and I meant it." He said softly, letting his powers flow. He sat down and cradled the child in his arms, acutely aware that every thief in the room was watching him intently. As the heat radiating from him began to warm the small body, the shivers stopped and Etienne relaxed. Soon, he woke up and looked at Marius sleepily, his blue eyes shining under his mop of blond hair. "How you do dat?" he asked.
"Do what, Et?" Pierre asked from his spot nearby.
"I ain' cold no more." Etienne announced.
Marius smiled, and this time it was more genuine. "Part of de powers given to me by our benefactress was de ability to generate a lot of heat, especially through my hands." He explained. "Dat's why I'm here. You're all cold to de very core of your beings. Bot' Tante Mattie an' Jean-Luc t'ought I might be able to change dat. Like I said, I'm not here to hurt you. I came here willingly, in de hopes dat I can make dis one winter night a little more bearable for you."
Four-year-old Emil, who had woken up and was watching as amazed as the rest of them, couldn't keep quiet any longer. "Really?" he asked, his own blue eyes hopeful.
Marius reached out and ruffled the boy's red hair. "Oui, really. But if you don' b'lieve me or your cousin, come here an' find out for yourself."
Emil climbed out of his father's lap and undauntedly walked over to Marius. "Prove it." He said in the commanding tone of a spoiled child used to getting his own way.
Marius laughed. "You sound like my daughter." He said. "She's 'bout your age, too." He reached up and softly laid his hand on Emil's cheek, smiling as he watched the boy's eyes widen in surprise.
"You really are warm..." Emil whispered.
"Told you!" Etienne gloated from his spot on Marius' lap.
"I got room for you too, if you wan' join him." Marius suggested. Emil didn't need any more invitation than that. In seconds he was settled with his cousin on the assassin's lap, happily getting warm and snug again for the first time in over a week.
For the rest of the night, Marius used his powers to warm the thieves, while Tante Mattie kept the chicken gumbo coming until there was none left. By the time the sun began to rise and it was time for Marius to return to his own territory, every member of the Thieves Guild was warm and asleep, except for Jean-Luc. He was warm, but waited up to walk Marius out with Tante Mattie.
"T'ank you, Marius." Jean-Luc said. They all knew the thieves would be cold again by the next night, but with any luck they'd be able to get some warmer blankets and clothing during the day so it wouldn't be so unbearable.
"You're welcome, Jean-Luc." Marius nodded.
Nothing further was said. Marius climbed the ladder and out the manhole into the same alley he and Tante Mattie had used the night before. He closed the manhole after he got out and walked non-chalantly out of the alley into the early morning greyness as if he did it everyday of his life and headed across town to his own territory and the mansion built by his father that housed his Guild. As he walked, it hit him just how vast the differences were between the two rival Guilds, especially in the way they lived.
The Assassins Guild killed for money. They were rich and lived like they were rich. They liked material things, and enjoyed the fact that they could buy anything they wanted. The Thieves Guild, on the other hand, were...thieves. They could have been rich, but they rarely kept the things they stole, choosing instead to live like paupers beneath the city streets and shunning materialistic things.
It had taken one winter night spent with the thieves to make Marius see just how different they were from the Assassins. And yet, seeing how much they cared for each other, Marius had to wonder, as he walked along the silent New Orleans streets, which of the two Guilds was actually better off.