She remembered her first memories, living with a group of people as young as she had been. There had been many dozens of them, boys and girls both, and each of them had been given a name to carry, to remember and to learn as their own, a name that began with the letter E. Collectively they had been known as class E. She could remember the name that she had been given, the name she had known to mean her from that day to this.
She remembered how they had been taught things, how they had in the beginning been taught to walk, then to run and also to speak the words that people use. These things were taught even before she had been given a name to carry. After she had been given a name the lessons gradually became more complex. After she had been taught to speak she was taught how to be quiet. After she had been taught to walk and run she had been taught how to be still. She had been taught how to be respectful, how to respond when those of higher rank spoke to her, and she had been taught to obey those that were her superiors. Those early years had been the first and last time they had tolerated disobedience amongst the members of class E. They had scolded them for their misbehavior and if that was not enough a slap to the face was added to the scolding. They had warned them all that in time misbehavior would carry a heavier price. She had eventually learned that they had meant what they said. They had told them that they were to be prepared for greatness, that the path they would have to walk, the things they would have to do, would be difficult, but if they made it to the end, the reward would be greater than they could ever imagine. Now she knew that they had been right.
She also remembered how one day she had awoken to a mysterious ache in her eyes, how she had asked one of her instructors if it was something to worry about, how she had been given a mirror and she had seen how her once deep green eyes were now crisscrossed with lines of yellow. Over time the yellow lines had grown larger and more numerous, until everything green in her eyes was gone, replaced by a wall of yellow, and the aching had stopped. She had seen how the eyes of others of class E had undergone the same transformation, how eyes of brown, grey, blue and green had all been turned yellow like her eyes had become. The eyes of few had remained the way they were, but they were the exception.
She remembered the first days of training, holding a heavy stone in her outstretched hands for a lengthy period of time, the point being to strengthen their arms, she had been told. It had been tiring work and the exercise had been repeated again and again for months. The stones she was to hold aloft had come to grow larger and the time she was expected to hold them aloft had grown longer. It was also the first time their class had one of their number die. One of the boys whose name she could no longer recall had grown bored and tired of constant lifting of stones that he believed served no purpose. He had protested first, calling the action pointless. Then, when no one heeded him, he threw the rock he had been holding in his hands down in a childish fit and made to leave. The blade had been quick. It had passed through the soft part of his jaw, through the roof of his mouth and into the brain; he had been dead before he hit the floor. She remembered watching eyes wide and mouth open at all the blood, at how immobile the boy had suddenly become. At the age she had been at that time, she could not truly understand what had just occurred, but her instincts had spoken of horror. She remembered how the instructor that struck the blow had sighed, turned to address them and spoken: - Remember this sight. Remember that you are to be weapons. A living weapon is a burden to all, and only through returning what has been invested, by becoming what it is meant to be, is it worth the effort of its making. If such a weapon cannot be made to work as it is meant to, it has no value, and it will not be kept. It will be discarded, as he has been. Now, get back to work.
With that, they had all gone back to their exercises, and none of them had protested what they had to do again.
She remembered how some years later she was being taught how to wield weapons. A fluid, constant motion, like a dance, where the actions of the enemy altered the patterns of that dance but never caused it to break. That had been at the heart of all she had been taught to do, a lesson they had repeated through all combat lessons through all the years of her training, until it might have as well been inscribed directly into her soul. At first they had trained with wooden weapons. Then wood had turned to steel and steel had grown sharp. She had been taught to read her opponent, to understand how the movements of their body always told what they intended to do next, a hidden traitor that every fighter carried with them. At other lessons they had been taught about various poisons: where to find them, how and where to use them and how to treat them if they themselves were exposed to them. Some of these they were to taste or smell to familiarize themselves with them. Some they even had to swallow in small amounts so they could have an understanding of their effects of the body. To her surprise she could recognize some of the tastes in the meals they had always been fed, and some of the symptoms of the poisons reminded her of some after effects of those same meals. At the time she had wondered at this but had not pursued the matter. Now she of course knew what it had been all about. She remembered running through one training course or another, avoiding cunning traps, one after another after another, and surviving, barely at times. As time passed, courses became more and more difficult to complete and would continue to do so until her training would finally come to completion after many years. She was hurt many times during these exercises, but each time the healers that had overseen their efforts had declared her salvageable, restoring her to health when necessary. A number of others were not so fortunate, both from her class and other classes that trained with them. These unfortunates were taken away, never to be seen again. Some others that refused to complete their exercises or partake in their training also died. These died publicly, before their eyes, as had been done in the first time, and the words that had been said then were repeated to them all, like a mantra. It was this way that she would come to remember those words for the remainder of her days.
She remembered the trial of blood, how it had been completed in the eight year of her life. They had brought them a basket full of slips of paper, each slip containing a name. Half of their class had been called forth to take a name from the basket, herself included. They told them that the names they had chosen were names of the other half of the class; that before the day was done the chooser would be called to fight the chosen in a fight were one would die and one would live, and if the two would refuse to do this, they would both die as failures. Then, one by one, they read aloud who was to fight whom. The one she was paired with carried the name of Eria. They had trained together many times, improving each other through observation and example, making both of them more than either of the would have been on their own. In the training courses they had often worked together, clearing obstacles that might have otherwise killed both of them. In another life she might have named Eria a sister. It was a cruel trick of fate that the two of them were brought to fight each other. Class E had been of an uneven umber at the time and their leftover was matched with a leftover from class H instead. Eidelan remembered how she would have given anything she would have had to give to be the leftover of class E, to kill a stranger rather than one she would have wished to preserve. In the hours before they were called upon, Eria and Eidelan had had a quiet conversation with their eyes alone, a conversation that had far greater understanding than their years would have given reason to expect.
And they had reached an accord.
Neither of them would cause the other the shame of dying as a failure, and neither would allow the other to lose deliberately, letting the other one win, it was not in their nature. So they silently agreed to meet in battle as had been commanded and to give it their all, agreed to claim victory if they saw the means and managed to use them. Erias warm brown eyes had met her yellow ones, and they accepted what was coming and forgave each other for what they were about to do. Then the appointed hour had arrived and they were led to an arena and given a weapon of their choice. They gave each other a final nod that was as a confirmation and a farewell both, and began their lethal engagement. They were both very good, the life threat enhancing their efforts beyond what they had thought possible. They both knew each other's techniques and fighting styles and so the fight dragged on for hours. By the end they both were bloody, bruised and panting. They had both lost their weapons in the course of the fight and so they finished their confrontation with their bare hands. In the end Eria had died and Eidelan had lived. In her heart Eidelan knew their clash could have easily ended in another way; they had both been equals in all things after all. She remembered how she had choked the life out of Eria, feeling her fists pummel her as she did, how her struggling grew slowly weaker, and then still. She remembered how sorrow had washed over her for the deed she had done like never before or since. It was a day she learned a terrible but important lesson about the life she led, about the dangers of allowing people to grow too close when at any given time she might be called upon to slay any one of them, including her own kind. Eria was the first and for the time being the only person she had killed, the only life ended by her hands. Eidelan considered it extremely likely that she would be nowhere near the last.
For the murder of a sister that could have been, she was declared bloodied.
She remembered the trial of pain, completed in the ninth year of her life. In the days and moths before the trial she had been taught mental techniques to control pain and to endure psychological pressure. She had practiced holding hot coals in her clenched hands, had had her limbs punctured with slender metal needles that sometimes went through bone as well as flesh, had dislocated and reset the joints in her fingers over and over again and held her arms up to their elbows in an angry beehive. All these things she had been asked to do or allow to be done without making a sound, and eventually she had been able to do just that. At the time she had endured harsh criticism, mockery and belittlement of her effort and cruel treatment even by the standards she was used to. At the time she had no idea that the things said to her were part of her training as well. She had simply wondered what she had done wrong to earn such. She had thought herself so clever when she used the very techniques she had been taught to endure the cruel words hurled at her, failing to realize that this was exactly what she had been expected to do. The training she had undergone during that year of her life was meant to prepare her for the trial of pain and for unknowable future events yet to come, she could see that now. Yet nothing could have ever prepared her for the trial itself.
She had walked barefoot across a long corridor; the floor covered from end to end in tiny spikes and blades and each of them had, unbeknownst to her, been covered with the tears of agony. The pain had been incredible, more that she had believed possible to experience or endure. The techniques she had been taught to use were all but useless before such onslaught. As she walked a collection of instructors and older initiates had stood on the end of the corridor, mocking her, calling her names, telling her she was a failure, that she would be killed and left to rot as soon as she reached the end and hurling various unpleasant projectiles at her. She remembered believing the words spoken to her; that she would not make it past this day. She had not been able to see the other initiates of her class that had taken the trial before her, and remembered thinking that perhaps they all were failures, that perhaps this was not simply her end, but the end of class E as a whole. She remembered tripping, sharp points piercing her legs and the palms of her hands, sending fresh lances of pain coursing through her to the laughter of her tormentors. She could remember how, for the briefest of instants, she had wanted to give up to, just lie down and die, or go back and face her end in less uncomfortable manner. And yet she had endured. Through the fog of pain she had carried only a single thought: She would complete this trial. It would not matter what others said or what was done with her afterward. In the name of all that had been, was, or would ever be, she would complete this thing, no matter the cost! With that thought in mind she Eidelan had advanced, one step at a time, screaming audibly with every step taken. The moment she set foot on the other side, the behavior of those who had been mocking her changed suddenly, as if someone had flipped a switch. They had smiled at her, congratulating her for her victory. She had stared at them, confused, as they explained that the point of the trial had been to complete it, despite everything that they had said and done, despite what had been suffered. Then she had been ordered to go around the corner where others who had completed the trial were sitting, nursing their wounds, and to remain quiet so that those who were yet to complete the trial of pain would not hear them. She had obeyed, walking to her place slowly, exhausted, leaving behind a trail of bloody footprints, and healers had come to tend to her injuries, as they had done with the others. She had been unable to walk for weeks afterwards, and residues of poison would cause her inconvenience for months to come. Today she had a number of small scars on her feet, her legs and her palms as a reminder of that day.
For enduring a walk through the grass of steel and torment, she was declared free of the dominion of pain.
She could remember how, in the tenth year of her existence she passed through the trial of fear, how she had been commanded to stand naked in a vast, dimly lit pit filled to the brim with numberless crawlers: ants, spiders, leeches, centipedes, scorpions, cockroaches and creatures she could not even name. A ladder to climb out of the pit was near her, a rescue tempting with its closeness. But she had been warned not to try to ascend from the pit without permission. If she tried, then once again she would face death at the hands of the instructors at the top, and her body would be thrown back down to be devoured. It had been no idle threat either; she had seen them do it to one of the initiates that had attempted the trial before her. His bones now kept her grim company during her vigil of terror. Eidelan could not bear the thought of meeting the same end, and so she stayed put. It almost did not matter. She had been allowed to keep her eyes closed, thankfully, but that did not stop her from hearing the sound of chitin on chitin caused by numberless creatures, from feeling them all over her and around her. She remembered shaking, whimpering and sweating profusely with cold sweat of fear, all of which seemed to make the creatures around her even more active. They were crawling across her body, some of them stinging her because of their own primitive fear, or sampled her flesh with claw and mandible to satisfy their curiosity or hunger. She could feel how a massive centipede as long and wide as her arm climbed across her back, coiling around her neck and crawling across her face, its myriad legs touching her lips, her nose, her closed eyelids. For a terrifying moment she could not breathe as it covered her mouth and nostrils. That was almost too much to take in. Terrified out of her wits, her hands flew to the ladder, ready to begin her climb, heedless of the consequences. She had forced herself to stop and recited a mantra in her mind that she had been taught to use in circumstances such as this:
"Look at her. Look at how weak she is, how afraid. Look how the flesh before you shakes and recoils with fear, fear of this mass of chitin. Look at all this and know you are stronger, for you stand on the outside. You look over her shoulder and laugh at her frailty, her mortality. And you know that you stand in a place where none can touch you, where none can harm you, where no fear can reach you, where you are invincible. And you know that the fear of this body, its pain, is not your own, but is of the outside, just as you are outside of it, in a place of strength. And you know that you have no cause to be afraid."
At this she had released her hold of the ladder, her mind calmer and her breath steadier. A minute had passed this way, then another, and then a third. At the end of the fourth minute she heard a voice above her, a voice that had belonged to the head of her safe house. "Initiate" it had said. "Yes Master?" had come the automatic reply, even though she risked getting insects in her mouth by speaking. "Open your eyes" had the voice above commanded. She had obeyed, seen the twisting, roiling, churning sea of tooth, claw and creature and for awhile the fear had returned. Three times her hands had risen to the ladder to climb, and three times she had stopped herself and calmed herself with her mantra in what was probably the longest minute of her life. In the end, the voice had called to her again: "Initiate". "Yes Master" had she once again replied. "You may now ascend" had the voice said.
With great urgency she had climbed out of the pit, crawlers still clinging to her. When she reached the top, an instructor cut off the largest creatures on Eidelans body with flicks of her blade. Then she had been instructed to lie flat on her back and roll over. Finally she was sprayed with a liquid that smelled like decay and rust, and soon all the creatures she had brought up with her were dead and still. Almost half a year would pass before the nightmares would relent, and even after that, on bad nights, she could find herself in that terrible place again, as a little girl, only this time without the means of salvation, and without the ability to release herself of fear.
For her ability to maintain her resolve and bravery against a legion of horrors, she was declared fearless.
She remembered the trial of disease and solitude, completed in her eleventh year. She had been instructed to make small cuts in her hands and arms and then rub rotting flesh, dung, soil, and dead man's blood in them. She had been locked in a room for almost a day together with bodies that had died of disease. The meal they had been given was also less than fresh. Afterwards she had been brought to a small four by two cell without warning or explanation. In one corner had been a bucket and a hole to dump bodily waste, a steadily flowing tap of water in the opposite corner, pile of food in another and a bedroll to sleep in. For a time she had wondered what was going on and had decided to wait until someone came to tell her what she had to do. After a long time had passed and nothing had happened she had fallen asleep. When she woke up she was sick; the first thing she did was to vomit into the bucket in her cell. For two periods of sleeping and being awake no one had come to check on her, nor had she heard movement behind her cell door, and the disease within her was slowly growing stronger. Something would need to be done, but she did not have the means to treat her illness in her cell. She had called out and knocked on the heavy wooden door, but no one had responded. She had even searched for hidden passages and trapdoors and had found nothing. Finally she had decided that her only alternative was to wait. Either someone would eventually come for her, or she would eventually die of disease or hunger. "It's all in their hands now" she had told herself.
There was no light source in her cell, except what little light came through under the door and this was always at a constant level. There were no windows and no devices to keep track of the passage of time. The food in her cell was plentiful, enough to keep her alive for a long time, again she just had no way of measuring how long exactly. With no other way to measure it she resorted to the only method of estimating the passage of time: that of how many times she had woken up from sleep. Eventually this method too became a blurry mess; she remembered hoping for a chalk or something similar to mark each waking. She remembered wondering how long she had been there. Was it hours, days or weeks? For all she knew at the answer might have been months. The only reasons she knew the answer was not years or decades was because there was still food left in her cell and her body still remained like it was when they had brought her here. Over time the unknown amount of time her store of food had diminished and the disease in her body had grown stronger. And still no one had arrived for her. In time she had begun to wonder if something had gone wrong. In her more desperate moments she had asked herself questions regarding her imprisonment, each more outlandish than the last. Had they abandoned her there? Was this perhaps what was done with initiates who were no longer able to train but were not killed on the spot? Had she failed then, in some fashion that she had not realized? Or had they somehow all left or even died, leaving her trapped in this room? Did she even know that the world outside this room still existed? Perhaps this room was all that was left of creation and she, its occupant, the last being left in the world. She had no way of proving or disproving this disturbing theory either.
When she was able to concentrate at all, Eidelan had sought to keep herself busy, to maintain her physical strength and her sanity. She had kept up with physical exercises, until her sickness had progressed so far that this became impossible. She had spent time meditating, playing word games and doing memory exercises. At other times, particularly when her fever had been strong, she had spoken to herself, telling herself nonsensical stories, then arguing with herself about the various illogical aspects of her tales, just to fill the silence around her. At one point she had even had a surprise visitor, conjured there by her fever induced hallucinations: Eria. At one undefinable time in her long wait she had simply been standing there, looking at her with a mild curiosity. Despite this sudden and unannounced appearance that should not have been possible, Eidelan had not been scared, alarmed or even surprised. It was as if Eria was supposed to be there at just that moment, as if it was completely normal for dead people to drop by in such a manner. Eidelan had simply nodded and given Eria a slight smile as a welcome, and she had sat beside her. Eria had been the same eight year old girl that Eidelan remembered. She had been healthy and whole, except for the strangulation marks on her neck, which she didn't seem to notice. After they had sat together for a while, Eidelan began to speak to her. She spoke of the events of the three years since their parting, of events large and small, on her experiences and thoughts on those matters. Some of this had been dull stuff, Eidelan knew, things that even Eria would already have known from her own training, but she didn't seem to mind, so she kept talking. Overall Eria had proven to be a very good audience: She had never spoken herself; she had simply sat there, listening, nodding for her to continue whenever Eidelan had paused to see if she still was still willing to listen. Somewhere around the time when Eidelan was finishing her tale Eria had been gone, as quickly as she had come. This too had been so patently normal behavior to her feverish mind, that Eidelan had not even spent a single thought on the matter at the time.
On the last day of her imprisonment she had lain of the floor, barely conscious, too sick to move or to think clearly. She had had one idea repeating in her head, how she should get up and drink some water and maybe that would make her feel better. No matter how many times she had the idea, no matter how much she agreed with herself, she had somehow failed to turn the thought into action. As she tried to push her mind to solve this insufferable impasse, she had heard the door of her cell unlock and open, how people had come in, lifted her off the floor and proceeded to carry her away. At the time she had thought that this was just another hallucination; that her subconsciousness was trying to comfort her by creating false saviors to rescue her from this slow death. It had turned out that her rescuers had been real; healers that had finally been told to get her because her trial was finished. She had woken in one of the beds of the safe houses hospital wing. Over the next days and weeks she had been brought back from the edge of death and restored to health, her sickness finally expunged from her system. She had never been as grateful to another person as she had been to the healers of her guild after that trial. Her incarceration, she was told, had lasted for several weeks, close to a full month, enough to push her close to the very edge that Ashirae Khan could be expected to survive such and more than a normal person should have been able to survive unassisted. Still, the trial of disease and solitude had once again been too much for some of her class, as other trials had been. Two were found dead in their cells, and a third one had been too far gone and had died a few nights later. A fourth one, a girl named Elisara had been to everyone's surprise physically completely healthy, without so much as a hint of sickness. Instead she had been found sitting on the floor of her cell, staring at the far wall, completely oblivious to everyone and everything around her. Silence had driven her mad, and in her madness she had turned her mind to a prison from which there would be no escape.
For surviving a period of total isolation and keeping her sanity intact during that period, she was declared free of the ravages of disease and victor over silence. '
She remembered how after the trial of disease and solitude the trials had stopped for a time, and for a time things had settled to the familiar routines of training for several years. This had not meant that she had been allowed to rest on her laurels and get lazy, oh no. The combat training had been as intense as ever, and in fact had been getting harder and harder as time passed. A preparation, they had said, to another test still ahead of her. And there had been a great deal of other kinds of training, like infiltration. They had been practicing the best ways to keep themselves hidden and then practiced them by keeping themselves hidden from the seeking eyes if the instructors for days. Those few who still had the prerequisites for it were taught another ways of infiltration as well, how to blend in and not stand out, how to remain hidden in plain sight for years if necessary and to suddenly strike down those they had deceived to trusting them and caring for them when the time was right. This, they had said, was the ultimate form of infiltration and assassination. The greatest fighter in the world could easily be slain by such a total betrayal, simply because they would not expect the assassin's knife from that direction. Eidelan had never been taught these things; her eyes and the multiple scars in too visible places made these impractical lessons to teach. It was the same for most others so she did not really feel left out. There had been other lessons though. They had also taught her techniques of interrogation, how do begin by persuasion, and then to slowly escalate things, turning requests to demands and threats and finally the inflicting of pain. They had taught her the best methods to inflict maximal suffering without killing the subject, how to use the substance "Barrier of the Dreamlands" to prevent the subject from escaping to unconsciousness, and another one, known as "Clear Recall" to enhance memory while the at the same time making it difficult for the subject to think logically, making asking leading questions easier and preventing them from locking away their secrets behind lies and reasoning. She still remembered the core tenets of interrogating: how the most important thing to do was to break their hope of salvation and take away their reason to keep quiet, since sheer spite would rarely hold against a determined interrogator, how fear of pain was often more important than inflicting it. They had taught her to be careful and suspicious of information thus extracted, since pain and the threat of it could make people desperate, could make them design elaborate fiction just to make her stop whatever it was that that she was doing to them. They had taught her to ask questions to confirm information and suspicions she already had, or to at least check what had been discovered against information received from other sources and to only rely on information that did not contradict and made sense in given circumstances. They had taught her that sometimes it was simply better to cause discomfort but to keep her motives hidden, so subjects would speculate on her motives, and would provide answers to questions she didn't even know she had. Whatever waking time she had free of training was spent in various chores, keeping places clean, minding the infants and youngest initiates in the nursery, fetching and carrying, maintaining the equipment in the armory and helping the various members of inducted professions in whatever duties they had going. Overall she had been kept very busy.
These years between trials had also been a time when they told her about various things relating to her future and that of the others. They had told them of the Guild, and what it did in the world. They had told them what they were to become, how they were to hunt down and kill people in the name of the guild. A great many things about their training had begun to make sense considering this truth. They had told them as much of the world outside as they were able, but much of it had not made sense, in retrospect likely because she had not had the means to make a proper comparison without any experience of her own about that world. They had spoken of other things as well. Among the most dramatic revelations had been when they told her and her class about the debt of life an what would happen after that, how she would one day, if she was still alive by that point, be a mother to a child that would be raised just like she had been. They had told her that once a person lived long enough their bodies would begin to gradually grow weaker and less able. Eventually that would make the unable to effectively do what they were raised to do. When that time was drawing near, they were to present themselves to the head of their safe house, and how this would be the time the debt of life would be put into effect and collected. After that their service would end, and so their lives. This they told them was the fate of all Ashirae Khan in the end, when it was their time. They told them that while their deaths would happen by the blade, this would not be a death of shame as had been with the executions done before their eyes for disobedience or failure, so long as they did their duties loyally, as they were required. They had told them that this would occur around the thirtieth year of their lives depending a little based on their fitness, and that this age would be somewhat younger than it might be for other people of the world. They had reminded them that all living things died eventually, sometimes younger than they might have been otherwise. Once more they had reminded them that they were to be weapons, told them that in time a blade wielded for a long time would reach a point where it could no longer be wielded and when it would happen to them, it would be time for them to accept that their service had been completed successfully, and that it was time for that life to come to an end.
In her way, Eidelan had been sad that her life would end sooner than the lives of others in the world, perhaps even a little upset. In time she had come to terms with the notion however. In the end she had been always been in situations where her life could have ended. In truth, she was certain that there were still many perils in her life, the threat of death would loom over each such challenge, and she might not even make it so far that anything that had been said would even matter. And if there was to be a moment when that potential outcome would become a certainty, then so be it. It was so for other living thigs after all, she had merely been privileged to know where that final possible line would be drawn. Death held no fear for her, and if it did so for others, then it would become a weapon she could inflict upon her enemies. She was also reminded of the numerous times her and her class had been called weapons in the making, and indeed he training implied exactly as much, and so she found herself believing the truth that had been told her so many times. It was all that she had been truly been taught to do, all she was able to do, her only reason to exist. If living longer meant losing the one thing she had been brought up to do, then perhaps it was not worth wanting after all, perhaps it was better to have a clean end at that border. Perhaps when she had lived to see her purpose well and truly fulfilled, her life would have gone on long enough. Of course at the time she had barely been able to imagine herself that old, being in her fourteenth or fifteenth year, enjoying the newfound power of her maturing body, power further enhanced by rigorous training. Things that would happen another fifteen or so years later seemed very distant indeed.
She remembered how, in her fifteenth year, the unthinkable had happened. She could well remember the name of the one responsible although she wanted not to and had indeed done her best to forget: Eric. Ever since they had been told about their future he had been impatient and snappy, lashing out against any that sought to speak to him, finding slights and insults in every corner. Then, during training, he had lost his temper at a slight only he had heard, and had drawn a blade on an instructor. The instructor had seen the attack in time and had been able to parry. Their blades had met once, twice, thrice. Then the instructor had seen an opening and had cut Eric's throat open. As Eric was lying on the ground, trying to stem the flow of blood with his hands, the instructor had knelt beside him, wrenched Eric's hands away from his throat and watched him bleed to death. "Traitor" had the instructor said, face twisted in anger. Nay, anger was not strong enough a word, it had been an expression of pure hatred and disgust. The rest of them were so astonished that none of them had been able to do anything, they had simply watched the scene play out, stunned by the sheer impossibility that they had seen. This was not something that they did. To kill one of their own under orders, or when a superior killed an initiate as punishment for failure or insolence, these were acceptable reasons. But Eric had attacked because he had been angry, not because of orders or because training and discipline demanded such an outcome, but because of selfish desire for petty revenge. This was impossible, unthinkable, wrong. No Ashirae Khan would try to kill another for such a reason. And yet it had happened, right before their eyes.
The next day they had brought his corpse to them, and each member of class E had taken turns to mutilate his body in the name of revenge, to punish this vile betrayer, dead though he was. It was the only way for the class to show where their loyalties were, to regain their honor and wash away the taint of this shameful act. She herself had torn apart his ribcage, exposing his innards for the rest of class E, and all she had been able to think was how angry she was. The thing that Eric had done was the worst thing he could have ever done. There was no more greater way to wrong the guild than this. And that he had been a member of class E cast a shame upon each one of them, and in so doing he had wronged the entire class, the people he had grown up with. How had he dared? How had he DARED?! Once each of them had done enough damage to him, his mangled corpse was thrown in to the sewers to whatever fate awaited for it there. All records of his existence were erased and no one ever spoke of him ever again. Such a person had never existed, it was as simple as that.
She remembered the trial of the survivor, the last of the great trials, how it had been completed in her sixteenth year of training. Several days prior to the trial she had been told what was expected of her: she was to face the grandmaster of the Ashirae Khan in single combat, and survive. Ten minutes, it was all that was required, the completion of those ten minutes signaled by a whistle blow. For the remaining days before the trial they had her spend her every waking moment in the practice yards, honing her combat skills; even the duties she had been normally assigned were suspended for the time being. The same had applied to the other members of class E. Of course this was all just tuning and acclimation, should there still somehow be gaps in her learning it would be too late to patch them now. Of those final days of preparation she only truly remembered whirling metal, sweat and muscle – ache. Often they had to face multiple opponents at once and hold their ground, all in the name of preparation. Then the great day had arrived and she was brought to an arena, the very same place where eight years ago she had faced Eria in combat. This time she faced a tall man with short black hair along with a few strands of grey, a short, neatly cut, completely grey beard and the yellow eyes so common to their kind, but somehow even more piercing than what she was used to. Their equipment, their clothes, their weapons, all were identical, down to the last detail. Skill alone would determine the outcome of this duel, not any difference of equipment. The most remarkable pieces were of course the howling blades they were to use as their weapons. Eidelan had never seen a more perfect weapon in her life, not before or since, even though she had handled all sorts of weapons during her lifetime.
Part of her had been intimidated by the opponent she was about to face. She had heard stories about the grandmasters of the guild and their legendary skill at arms. To face one in battle was cause enough to be nervous, of that were no doubts. Yet the other half of her had high confidence in her abilities. She had been trained for this. She could hold her own for far longer than was demanded now. Many times she had been able to win such battles too, it was unlikely that she would be where she was now if she could not have, so simple survival seemed to be a remarkably easy task. Despite being her superior, the grandmaster was one of her kind, trained in the same manner, a manner already familiar to her. Surely he could not be that much better a fighter, even if he was likely more experienced? She remembered thinking that since this challenge was so simple, maybe she should reach higher than was required. If she could not only survive against the grandmaster, but would actually defeat him, think of the renown she would earn amongst the guild! She would be known as the greatest warrior of them all, as the first and only to accomplish such a thing. She would go down in the histories of the guild. She would become a legend. For the first time in her life, in a foolish bout of her sixteen year old self, she had allowed herself these prideful thoughts. If she could do it, what harm could there be?
The extent of her hubris was revealed in the opening moments of the duel. Her attacks were parried almost lazily, while her own defenses were brought to the brink of crumbling within moments. It was like fighting a hurricane of blades. For each strike she blocked or avoided, two or three more seemed to be well on their way to strike at her. Very quickly she adjusted herself to a purely defensive stance, allowing her instincts to take over and do the most fighting for her, while her conscious mind made general observations of her enemy to guide her senses further. In this manner she hanged on, barely at times, minute after minute. However with every passing minute her resistance was growing more desperate. She found herself tiring under the relentless assault. She was bleeding from several small cuts where she had made mistakes, and as she grew more tired and slow she made more mistakes, met with an instant penalty. Her opponent was neither tiring nor making mistakes; it was without a doubt the most incredible display of swordsmanship she had ever seen. So focused she was in staying alive that she completely lost track of the time. When the whistle was blown at last, it came at the last moment, as a complete surprise to her. In the last moments before that, the grandmaster had caught her wrist, twisting it so that she was forced to drop her weapon as he brought his to her throat. The blade was already cutting the skin when the fight ended. Another instant and she would have been dead, the main artery cut. It spoke of the grandmaster's reflexes that he had been able to stop himself so quickly. He had released her and she had backed away several steps, instinctively grasping her throat even though no blood had been drawn. Then she had collected herself and given the customary bow that was to be given at the end of this trial and, at the grandmaster's command, left the arena, her mind still processing her apparent survival.
Of the many dozens that had been class E in the beginning, only three were standing at the end of the trial of the survivor. One was herself, another an elven man named Eredian and the third a human man named Errol. All the others had met one end or another during the sixteen years of their upbringing, many of them falling against the grandmaster at this final crossing. In her survival this day Eidelan saw several important lessons worth learning. She understood that she should never overestimate her own abilities or underestimate that of her enemies. She understood that no matter how good a fighter she was, it was always possible, however unlikely, that there was another out there who was still better. Most of all she had learned the dangers of pride. In her carelessness, she had allowed greed and arrogance to get to her and intoxicate her with false promises of glory and renown. It had almost cost her everything. She vowed that day to never allow this to happen again. Never again would she fall to such temptation. True glory was earned only through loyal and unflinching service, all else was falsehood and would only bring about ruin.
For standing her ground and surviving against overwhelming opposition, she was declared worthy.
She remembered how some days after the trial of the survivor she had been brought to the family. They had told her a little of the world, but they had also told her that were things that could not be taught by being told, things that could only be shown, that she would have to see for herself. To learn these thigs it would be necessary to live amongst those that already knew. Among the few things she could not recall were the names of the family she had lived with, as well as their faces. Those things she had banished from her mind for her sake and theirs. There were other things she could remember though, things that allowed her to identify those people in her memories. The first person she had been introduced to was the one she now knew as the Man, the father in the family. He had been a large, fat man, and she remembered staring at him mouth open and amazed at their first meeting. It had never occurred to her that a person could be shaped like that. The Man had noticed her amazement and asked for its cause, then laughed heartily at her explanation. Another thing she could remember about the Man was his scent; he always smelled like flour, sugar, and to a degree, grease. Those were not unpleasant smells, though she was not used to them. He had been a happy man, constantly laughing, smiling and making jokes. He was also the one who was the friendliest towards her, talking to her often, more often than was required, about various things, and had also encouraged the others in the family to accept her as well. As they made their way to the Man's shop, he had told her to go by the name of Vera for as long as she stayed with the family and to present herself as their adopted child. Her actual name, he had explained, would bring too much attention, being rather rare in this part of the world. When she had pointed out that her appearance in general might attract more attention than her name he had laughed and explained that while her name might be remembered and used later to connect her to the family, most who visited his shop could not link her appearance to what she represented and so she would be a mere curiosity to them. At worst people would gossip about the strange girl they had seen to their families and forget about it the next day. The world was full of strange things after all, one strange looking person would mean nothing to those who did not know what that meant or were not specifically looking for her. Most of those that would know what she was knew enough to leave well enough alone. In a more serious tone he had continued that a false name given now would break the obvious link between her and the family she was to live with, protecting the family even if her actual name would somehow become known in the city. A face could be forgotten, even one that had eyes like hers, particularly since others of her kind did live in the city under other false stories, but a name could be recorded, and would not be so easily lost. After a pause he had added that it was probably best if she did not wander into the public areas of the shop during business hours. No need to take unnecessary risks after all.
The next person she was to meet was the wife of the Man, one that she now knew only as "the Wife". Unlike the Man, the Wife had never liked her. On good days the Wife avoided her, on bad days she found excuses to beat her. Eidelan had lost track of the times she had had to restrain herself to keep her reflexes from striking back. She remembered the one time she had failed and given the Wife a bloody nose and lip with a single strike of her hand. That particular misdeed had seen her locked in the attic for three days. The family had believed that this was a significant punishment. Perhaps in their soft ways of life it was. As it was, it had been the perfect chance to meditate in peace and quiet for a change. She had never really understood why the Wife disliked her so, but she suspected that she was afraid of her, or that she hated what she represented, or perhaps both of those.
The Man and the Wife had many children of all ages. Their eldest was a son that was almost five years her elder, and the family had spoken of at least two other older children still, that had gone on to start businesses of their own. Their youngest had still been an infant. She remembered how after some time, two of her guild had come to the family, seeking that infant. The Wife had been greatly distressed by this, cursing and shouting at them to get away from her child. The Wife had moved to stop them, but the Man had stopped her. He had called to her for aid, and together they had restrained the Wife long enough for the other members of her guild to leave with the child. After that the wife had broken free and struck her hard, enough to send her spinning to the ground, knocking over a table as she went. She had thought to stand up and fight back, but the Man had shot her a warning look, a look that told how justified the fury of the Wife was, and promised retribution if she so much as thought about striking back at that. Such had been the power of that one look that she decided it was best to stay down. For a long time afterwards, the Man had not smiled, or laughed, or told jokes, he had simply continued to provide for his family, joylessly. The Wife had existed is a kind of stupor; she had continued to live and work as her family required of her, but her mind was absent from all of this. Eidelan seemed to be about the only thing that could animate her, and not in a good way. The beatings had grown so severe and came for so small causes, sometimes for no cause at all, that Eidelan had to teach herself to steer clear of the Wife at any cost. On many nights she could hear the Man and the wife crying together, or alternatively arguing heatedly. The Wife would accuse the Man of abandoning their child, to which the Man responded that there was no choice in that situation, that the child would have been lost anyway, and that allowing it to happen was the only way to protect the rest of them. The Wife would ask, angrily, why he had to keep "that creature", presumably meaning Eidelan, in their household. The Man would reply that it was a debt to pay for past dealings, something that could not be helped, and that it would be folly to defy the forces that had brought her by refusing.
The children of the family were divided in opinion about her. Some were like the Man, and sought to tolerate her and even to learn to like her, even after the event with the family's youngest. Others had been more akin to the Wife, avoiding her and calling her "wolf eyes" behind her back, as well as names she liked far less. Sometimes they tried to frame her for misdeeds. Most of the time she was able to deconstruct their crude ploys with logic and argument to prove her innocence. Or at least she was able to prove it to the satisfaction of the Man; the Wife rarely required proof to consider her guilty. The eldest son was the worst of those that took a stand against her. Once, sometime after the incident with the infant, as she was running an errand of buying certain spices for use of the family, the eldest son and a pack of his friends ambushed her and made it very clear that they intended to "smash her to a pulp" for what her guild had done. Some of the other boys had been after other things as well, as was evident from the hungry, leering looks they gave her. That day she had returned home with a bloody lip, a limp caused by a swelling knee and a host of scrapes and bruises enough to count as a small army. Six of ten boys had been knocked cold, including the eldest boy. The remaining four had fled when they realized that they could not win. The errand she had been sent out to achieve was completed as well, the Man had actually called her an overachiever for that. When she had been questioned about her condition she had been honest, although she had omitted to mention the involvement of their eldest as her idea of keeping the peace. She needn't have bothered. When the eldest son had returned home looking as bad as she was, the truth was easy enough to see to anyone who cared enough. In truth the boys who had ambushed her had gotten off quite easy. Where she knocked people senseless, she could have killed. She had carried a concealed knife the whole time, and it was not as if she could not kill with her bare hands. It would have been faster, more efficient and she would not have been so baldy hurt. She might have even been able to kill them all, so none would have escaped. But doing that could have made the Man sad again. It might have made him angry and turn him against her. It might have caused trouble with the authorities. It might have even blown her cover. None of these were things she wanted to happen, and so she had stayed her hand. After this particular incident, the eldest boy and his gang had avoided her as if she carried some deadly disease. Overall this had been a very favorable development.
The family was a family of bakers, and they had taught her some of their trade, not enough to go into the business herself, but enough to be of some assistance and to have the skillset of a talented amateur. It was the tendency of the Man to bake a surplus of his goods whenever his family could afford it, and whatever was not sold was eaten by the family itself. She herself had been often offered a share of these bounties. She had accepted these offers as was polite but had practiced a degree of caution when it came to eating them. It had been obvious that the huge girth of the Man had been created as a result of his eating habits, and she considered it unwise to allow the same to happen to her. Baking was not the only skill they had taught her. When they had discovered that she could not read, they had sought to teach her to do that, but she had struggled with that skill and had never really learned it. Perhaps one day she would be better at it. Some of the things she had learned they had not in fact intended teach her, mostly because they did not think these were things that needed teaching. Many of these lessons were observations that she stumbled across in the day to day of these soft folk, things that were often as much about her as they were of this strange other world. One such discovery was that she had a dislike for dresses and skirts of all sorts, whether formal ones or the ones that were worn in their day to day. Never had she encountered such impractical and clumsy outfits. How others could stand such things was beyond her. Another interesting discovery was related to the food. It was the first time she had eaten food that did not carry a dose of poison in it. She had wondered at the difference in taste and remembered the lessons about poisons she had been taught when she was younger, familiarizing herself with how different poisons smelt, tasted and felt on the body. The conclusion was finally made then that her food had up until now always been poisoned. When she pondered the possible cause of this, she was reminded of another part of those lessons, how they had taught her that people who were fed small amounts of poison constantly in a manner that didn't kill them, could develop a resistance, requiring more and more poison for lethal effects. Her conclusion was that this must have been what they had done with her as well, so that she could not be easily poisoned.
Most of all in these two years she began to understand how very different she was compared to other people in the world. Even those who were supposedly fighters in this world were very different than she was. She had seen such people every now and then, taking note of their equipment and fighting style. As she had watched them train, she had been able to see dozens, sometimes hundreds of little mistakes that she could have taken advantage of to claim herself a quick victory. Whoever had trained them was obviously a very cruel person to leave them so very incomplete. There had been one that was different though. He had come to the shop one day and made a few small purchases, likely to throw off suspicion. The main reason for him to be there appeared to be gossip, given how he had hovered in the shop long after his transactions were complete, just talking to people. He had carried no visible weapons and his outfit was plain, unremarkable. And yet there had been something about him… small mannerisms, ways of carrying himself that had told her that perhaps this one was closer to what she was than most, something that she alone in the shop could see. Was he less, or perhaps more than she was? It was difficult to say. She had thought to make herself scarce, but curiosity had drawn her back. So she had lingered on the sidelines of the shop, trying not to look out of place, examining this other. Hers had been a cautious curiosity of one predator studying another, trying to estimate who was capable of eating whom, ready to flee or attack at the first sign of trouble. Had he also noticed her? No sign had tipped her off that this was so. If he had noticed her, he had done nothing about it.
She had also begun to realize that the others not of her guild had not had her life. She would sometimes refer to an anecdote or lesson of her training when speaking with the members of the family, certain that they too would know of it, only to realize that they did not have the fairest idea of what she was talking about. They on the other hand sometimes spoke of things that she did not know about, assuming those things common knowledge. While such instances had decreased in number after two years spent with the family, this had caused some remarkably awkward conversations for all involved. Eidelan kept some memories of those conversations in her mind; they could provide great amusement to her during hours of boredom. With the Man she had conversed often, sometimes late to the night, he talking about his life and she talking about hers. He had been horrified of what was involved in her training. It struck her as odd that they had found her life so horrifying. Had they not lived in the same manner as well? Was she truly so different?
In discovering how different she and her kind were from the rest, she had begun to see herself in a new light. All her life she had believed herself to be merely adequate to live in the world. She had believed that the world was so harsh that the things taught to her were the only way of surviving it. Now it all had begun to make sense. Now she began to see that she was indeed adequate by the guild's standards, but those standards existed to place her firmly to a position of superiority. In many ways she was better than these other, softer folk, not because what she was born to be, but because what she had been shaped to be, because of what she could do. Where she was a Howling blade, created with care, purpose, and attention to detail, most other fighters were crude weapons, cold – forged from iron ore. Good enough to get the job done, certainly, and more numerous than her kind could ever hope to be, but one – on – one, blade to blade, few could truly stand against her. Other peoples were softer things still; things of copper, tin, bronze and gold: pretty perhaps, quite possibly useful in the right hands, but they would fall apart if she decided to assail them. She had come through a difficult path, and in so doing she had become something powerful, something great, something that would not easily be stopped. With this knowledge in mind, she had gained perspective on what she was and what she was to be. She found forgiveness in her for what had been done to her. And more than that.
She found gratitude.
She could honestly say that she had some good memories of her time with the family. For a time she had allowed herself to be Vera, to live that life. Yet throughout it all she had kept in mind that she was not Vera. She did this because she knew that one day she would have to leave that name behind and she did not want to lose sight of that. Vera was simply a mask that she wore, because it was convenient, because it was asked of her. Since it was already in place there was no reason not to humor herself and play the part. Still, she had discovered that she did care what happened to the family, at least when it came to those that had treated her kindly. She found herself smiling and laughing at their jokes. Their hurts and sorrows she felt as her own. It was not like that with others. She could see how people other than the family lived their lives, how they had hopes and fears, sorrows and joys. She witnessed these things and she felt….nothing. To her these others simply existed in the world, multiplying and carrying on with their lives and their errands, none of which had direct bearing on her. If there was need, she could put an end to those lives. If they lived, it was because she saw no advantage in them dying, not to her and not to her guild. Their hopes and their fears, their sorrows and joys, these were tools she could use to control them, to make them do what she wished, it was the only reason to note the existence of such things. It was all very impassionate. Dealing death was simply an action or actions taken against a construct of flesh and blood with the objective of inflicting a permanent malfunction to that construct. In emotional terms, it was as simple as it would be for one of these soft folk to go out and buy bread. But the family was a different story. She might have named those kind to her among the family as her friends, but she knew better. She knew that if the call came, she would slaughter each and every last one of them, quickly if it was her choice, slowly if it was demanded of her. She would be displeased of the outcome of course, but not enough to stay her hand when it was compelled by a direct order, not even enough to make her hesitate in her purpose. If she had learned anything of the world, it was that friends would not do such things to each other. Since there was no one she would not do these things to, not even herself, it followed that she could not have friends. Only fools would ever think themselves completely safe from her. At best they could have a situation where she would only destroy them if it was directly ordered. Most, perhaps no one else but the members of her guild and this one family of bakers, would never even get that far.
Sometimes she wondered what life might have been like if she had grown among the soft, as someone like Vera had been. What would have been her profession in the world? Where would this be? What would be her skills? Would she have been married to some man somewhere and carried many children to him, as the Wife had done with the Man? What would she have liked? What would she have disliked? What kind of people she might have known? Would she have looked at the world with different eyes than she did now? Would she have known herself as part of a people, as the family seemed to do? Would she have actually felt something for these others that populated the world? Of course, in the end these thoughts did not matter. Whatever else might have been, it had not come to pass. She was this now, and she had no regrets. She was Eidelan, an assassin of the Ashirae Khan, and it was a thing worth being. Other outcomes of her story were possibilities that had no place beyond idle wonderings.
Eventually the time had come to leave. Those who wished to had said their goodbyes to her as was their custom. She had thanked them and offered her own goodbyes in return as was polite. Then she had gone on her way, leaving the family behind for good. Upon returning home she had gone back to the ways of living she knew. Her black hair, which she had allowed to grow in length during the two years, she now cut back to its accustomed shortness. She went back to using the guild clothing and settled back to the routines of the guild.
Now, in her eighteenth year she sat cross-legged and eyes closed in deep thought, thinking about all of these things as she waited to be called to perform the Sand Dance ritual. This was not a trial. No threat of death hung over her head today, no fear or despair needed to be overcome. This was a day of induction, a welcome to the guild, a special event to mark her accomplishment, that she had, at long last, earned her place. She opened her eyes when she heard someone address her: "Initiate". One of the Operatives of the guild. "Yes Master" came her reply, as she privately remarked that this was probably among the last times she would be called an Initiate. "The time has come. Follow me." Eidelan was brought to a small preparation chamber from where a door led to the main room of the ceremony. "Here, you are to wield this", said the operative that had escorted her, handing her a Howling Blade hilt first. She took the blade and gave it a few quick spins. It was still as she remembered these blades to be, an expression of perfection. Next the operative handed her a small sealed pot, "breathe of this". Eidelan opened the pot, discovering a yellow and orange powder that quickly began transforming into a mist of the same color. She could smell it on with her nose and taste it with her tongue. First it was a sweet taste, like chocolate, then it took on the taste of salt and a spice that she couldn't quite place. As she breathed the stuff, an unexplainable sense of happiness began to rise from somewhere deep within her. A smile crept onto her face irresistibly. Noticing her expression, the operative too smiled: "it feels good doesn't it"? "It's wonderful… Master" Eidelan replied, remembering to correct herself to use the proper form of address at the last moment. "You have been instructed?" asked the Operative, more as a final confirmation than anything. "Yes, in know what is to be done" said she.
She stood in the center of a round room made of pale brown sandstone. Light streamed in from windows close to the ceiling, lighting the room with a welcoming glow and warming her face. Beneath her feet was about an ankle deep layer of fine sand, more dust than anything. Around her, in a circle there were simple unadorned pedestals made of the same stone as the room itself was. On each pedestal there was a small jar. Even though each jar was sealed, she knew full well what each one of them contained. She placed herself in a state of readiness, raising the blade high above her head. She stood like that for several moments, allowing her mind to memorize this moment, allowing the moment of silence to turn this ritual to a hallowed event in her mind. Then she brought the blade down, beginning the ritual with the first movements of the blade. It was an old, familiar pattern of strikes and movements, an exercise that she knew inside and out through numberless hours of practice, one that she could do in her sleep. She did as she had always been instructed, creating a constant flow of movement with her weapon, each sweep already hiding the seeds of the next moves in its midst. Her movements were slow and deliberate, slow enough for her blade not to cause the noise it was so renowned for. This was not the moment for fast strokes, not yet, that would come later. Then the moment arrived that the blade's path would cut past one of the jars. She subconsciously added a fraction of force to the strike to ensure breakthrough. The impact carved a great crack in the thin walls of the jar, nearly breaking it in half, the force sending the jar tumbling down from the pedestal it was on. More yellow – orange dust spilled from the opening, turning rapidly into a mist that drifted into her nostrils, and with that her sense of happiness climbed to completely new heights. She couldn't help but grin at the sensation. She continued with the patterns of her exercise, faster this time, the sword in her hand giving a low hiss, like a provoked snake. Soon another jar was broken, releasing more of the wonderful substance, then another. Soon she was laughing and whooping aloud, her joy soaring beyond comprehension, the Howling blade making a noise like the shriek of the damned. The room grew brighter as her eyes expanded into black orbs. She became aware of tiny details of her environment that she had not even noticed before: a crack in a jar there, an odd coloration of the stone here. Part of her was tempted to just forego the patterns of the exercise and hack apart the jars like some savage. But no, the controlled movements of sword and body were part of the experience, to act otherwise would be to diminish the whole thing. She, the sword, the jars and the room she was in, all were part of a single, perfect whole, a tornado of steel that none could oppose. It was all perfect.
*She* was perfect.
Yes, another jar was broken, free to release its glorious contents in the air! Glory and blessings be to the one who had created this stuff! Was this what the gods felt? Was this what it was like to be one of them? It had to be, or else the gods were surely jealous of this thing of mortals. Yes, quickly and precisely through the series of attacks, so that she could get more of it! She wanted more! She wanted it all! All of it was to be hers!
Suddenly her legs gave out from under her. Damn it, no! It was not what she wanted them to do at all. She wanted them to keep her upright, so she could continue. There were jars left still, she was not DONE! It could not be helped. She fell on her back, gasping for breath between mad bouts of laughter, her moth stuck in a crazed grin. She could feel unconsciousness creeping in from behind her eyes. Her last conscious thought was how wonderfully soft the sand felt on the back of her hand, not like the coarse stuff she had been expecting at all…
The next day she was kneeling before the Grandmaster of the guild in the grand hall of the safe house, still feeling the strange hollowness that was the withdrawal effect of the Blazing Sun. The great hall was lined with others of the guild who had come to witness this event. Outside a number of others like her awaited their turn to be called. The grandmasters back was turned to her when he addressed her:
"You will be called upon to serve the guild with unquestioning loyalty. Its glories are your glories, its victories are your victories, its failures are your failures, its losses are your losses. You are to love the guild as softer folk love their families. We shall be your only family and fraternity. All that you have and all that you are you are to turn to the service of the guild of the Ashirae Khan, for its benefit and glory. You are to attend to your duties as they are appointed to you, to the best of your knowledge and ability. Those that bear the mark of death as decreed by the guild you will hunt down and slay without mercy. Those that are our enemies you will destroy with blade and fear, with all the power you can muster. You shall claim those lives that you are told to claim, even if it is your life, or that of your brothers and sisters that is to be claimed. You are to keep a watchful eye on your brothers and sisters, so they will not give less than you, so that no possibility of treachery ever crosses their mind, and you will keep a watchful eye on yourself, so that you will not be found wanting in your service. You will attend to the training and raising of our young, so that our mantle might be carried from generation to generation by the worthy. In the name of that same continuity you give your word to provide the gift of life at the end of your time, if you are here and able to give it. You shall do all these thigs?"
"I shall do all this, Master" she answered. "As the guild commands". "Glory be upon the guild". "Glory be upon us"
"The words are spoken, as the guild commanded, her pledge is given, she is of us" echoed those who were the audience in unison.
With the faintest smile of triumph the Grandmaster turned to face her and spoke again: "You have been declared bloodied, free of the dominion of pain, fearless, free of the ravages of disease, victor over silence and you have been declared worthy. I now pronounce you… complete. You now stand as an operative of the guild. This day shall be yours, to do with as you wish. Tomorrow you shall begin your service in the house of honored Khardiim. Now rise, operative Eidelan, and take your place among your fellow trained.
"I shall do this, my Master. And thank you. Thank you for all that has been given." Those were words she had been instructed to speak, but she said them with sincerity, as one who meant every word.