A young assassin learns a valuable lesson at his first trial
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” It was carved into the cherry tree above where the young assassin bled. Most training or test involved bleeding. For blood was money and the assassin’s guild was a business. And when money was jeopardized there would be blood to pay.
The council had found out his secret. They had found out about her. There was nothing-particularly special about her except that she was his. All lovers know that that is what makes someone so valuable to another person. Alas, the members of the council were not lovers. They were killers. And value was measured on a scale in gold.
He was summoned to the high judgment chamber that the council held court over those who broke the creed. The room was large and hollow like the hearts of the assassins, held up by solid stone columns. The chamber’s contents held a stone dais that the accused would stand. This was lit by three lanterns that adorned a large nine-foot tall scale. And she kneeled on one end of the scale. She was naked, bound and beaten kneeling before him, looking to him with pleading eyes.
“We have taught you the brews and antidotes for many toxins.” The rasping voice echoed in the dark and seemed to come from everywhere in the room at the same time.
“Many of these are unique to our guild, unbeknownst to any other individual or clan from any of the earth’s four corners.” This from another voice yet none the less ragged or ancient in age.
“Nhils…” This voice may have been female yet it was so breathy it could perhaps have been the wind calling through the chamber. But when one’s name is called by the high council one knows and one listens. “Love is a poison. It is a sweet and beautiful poison, but it will bring ruin to you as surly as nightshade.”
“Yet you have been kept ignorant from this knowledge. The council erred in not educating you on such matters.” The voices seemed to blend together now, nearly indistinguishable from one to the next.
“Holding paramours outside the guild is forbidden...”
“But not unheard of.” A thick granite shield rolled silently from the shadows and made a beeline to Nhils. The young assassin stopped the shield with his foot before it ran into his shins.
“Prove to us that you can carry the weight of your lover whilst still obeying your guild’s commands and you may save her and impress the council with your strength.” Nhils lifted the shield and found “Crystal,” the name of his lover was burned into the leather handle.
“Do not disappoint us Nhils” said the breathy voice.
Beneath the cherry tree he stood on a thick wooden stake wide enough for only one foot. In one hand he held a katana. In the other he held the granite shield. Surrounding him, standing on similar wooden stakes six feet from him, were five other guild members, their features hidden behind their traditional clothe facemasks. On each of the five’s heads was placed a ceramic cup of water. He was to knock the cup from their heads. Yet these five were armed with what could have been an endless number of wood tipped training knives and shurikens. Due to the wood, the blades would not sink lethally deep. They were not meant to kill. They were meant to bleed. And after thirty minutes of this fish-in-a-barrel game, the earth appeared to be bleeding from the stake Nhils stood on from the amount of blood that had dripped off his naked chest during the duration of the trial thus far.
At first he tried to block his assailants missiles with the shield and then he tried to deflect them with the katana at his ceramic targets. Yet with the weight of the shield his balance was off and his strikes not as precise as they should have been. The katana he was given was meant for two-handed combat. Not as an off-handed defender. After ten minutes the five would yield their assault and allow Nhils to remove knives and shurikens that had lodged themselves into his muscles. These time intervals were measured with candles and by high council member who had chosen to watch the trial first hand. This was Nhils’ third break and as he pulled a blade from his shoulder he knew that he would not see a fourth.
“I have known of only two, ever to make it to a third resting.” The high council member, silent up until this moment now spoke. He wore loose black and gold robes but did not hide his face. He was old and the hand of time had not touched his features softly. His baldhead was clean shaved and covered in kidney spots and a thin wispy beard hung long from his chin.
“None have yet seen a fourth.” He sighed. “You have come far young one. Would you listen to the advice of an old man?” Personal words of wisdom offered by the high council were like diamonds within the guild. Rare and sought after. Hard and sharp.
“I would be honored master.” Nhils replied. He was now grateful he had not winced and cried out during the three ten minute sessions. That must have shown favor to the ancient assassin. The old killer rose to his feet in a slow and fluid motion and walked to Nhils. A soft wind blew cherry pedals from the tree to flow through the air and the front of the assassin’s gold and black robes came undone exposing his chest.
“Many of us believe that holding on, is what shows strength.” As he came closer Nhils saw that the council member was covered in small scars. “But sometimes it is letting go that is hardest.” The old killer pulled a knife that had stuck into Nhils’ forearm and dropped it to the blood stained grass. The young assassin looked down into his master’s eyes from his perch. Although he was old, the scars the master assassin bore were on hard knotted muscle and his eyes were as sharp as ever.
He turned from the prodigy, retreated to where he had sat before and lit a small match. With one last look at Nhils the old killer touched the lit match to the wick of the fourth candle. As the flame ignited the five began their onslaught. Yet as the wooden studded metal flew through the air, Nhils let go of the granite shield and gripped the katana with two hands. In an arc of lightning he swung the folded steel across and up and before the granite shield hit the ground three cups shattered dousing the heads of the assassins in cool water.
One shuriken was a foot and a half from shredding Nhils’ face when he caught it in hand and flung it back, shattering a fourth cup. Nhils hoped, switching feet and turning himself around to see his final target. The assassin hurled a blade but instead of parrying it, Nhils jumped into it, Katana raised above head in two hands. The fifth assassin panicked seeing a bleeding Nhils fly the six-foot gap between them with gleaming steal and fell back wards in fear. The Katana made a whistle as is slashed through the final cup and Nhils landed on the other assassin’s wooden stake.
“Now I have seen two others pass this trial.” The ends of the ancient assassin’s lips curled up in what just might have been a smile.
Nhils returned to the high chamber that night, wounds still fresh. He brought with him the stone shield. Wordlessly, without looking to his previous lover, he lifted the granite onto the other end of the scale. The weight of the shield slowly lifter the young woman up, showing her to be lighter than the shield. Nhils turned his back on Crystal, the granite, and the scale and walked from the room.