The Shadows Know Part 1, Chapter 1

I Am The Killer

By Brandon Schwartz

Clyde finally reached Tzen in the pouring rain. The weather had thoroughly soaked his clothes. His platinum hair hung limply at his shoulders, it's form now destroyed by the water. Clyde walked through the richer section of Tzen. There were several two story houses and shops. A beautiful cobblestone path paved through the section. Of course, Clyde envied them. He even wondered how Duke lived before he moved to Tzen.

And then there were the slums, where the upper and middle-class citizens greatly feared to tread. A huge, filthy and overpopulated hovel, it made the back streets of Tzen an eyesore. A person with more than a few hundred gold on themselves would be ripped apart in an instant. And if not by the adults, than by the swarms of skeletal children, each trotting along blissfully ignorant on toothpick legs and swollen stomachs. Clyde, who was much better off, much healthier and older than them, was very grateful for his mother's job.

He was reminded of his luck each day as he saw another withered body, passed out from hunger and never to wake again. Usually they were children, which caused everyday to bring another gruesome scene to town; another corpse, surrounded by its living friends, who poked and prodded at the dead body. They didn't know what death was. All they were told was that their friends needed a very long rest. And each and every one of them wondered who would sleep next.

Clyde reached his house, which consisted of only two rooms. One was used for his mother's business, who worked as a tailor for the slums. The other was their bedroom. A small shack it was, the ceilings no higher than ten feet and no much more room than what was needed to breathe in. The other was their bedroom. "Clyde!" shouted his mother when he walked inside. "Where were you?" She then noticed his battered face. "Oh no... Not again, Clyde. Why are you always fighting with that man?"

"It's not me, mom. That guy hates me." he responded. "...How was work?"

"Same as always." replied his mother. Clyde noticed her worn, wrinkled face, and saw that it had been a long day for her, too. Although he had been noticing the same face many times before, and much more often then he used to. His mother was frail, thin from a poor diet, and often sick.

Clyde was noticing that her entire skin tone had been changing from a sun-bleached auburn, to a pale, weak looking shade of brown. He was worried. It wasn't the first time he was concerned for her health, but he was afraid. Too afraid to tell her he noticed her sickness as well, for he was never good at emotional confrontations. He instinctively ran from them as often as he could.

"I think I'll wash up and go to bed..." said Clyde as he walked into the bedroom. Taking a look in the small piece of glass he used as a mirror, he looked himself over. His clothes were tattered from countless tangles with Duke and other assorted rivals.

Routinely he would wear black slacks, tucked into a brown tunic with a dilapidated leather belt. His favorite beige bandanna was always tied over his medium length platinum hair. He stood slightly over five feet, but he didn't know for sure, seeing how there weren't many accurate devices for measuring in the slums. Although he fought often, he had little definition and was not very intimidating at first glance.

He would do anything to be more like Braham. Although his cheery attitude irritated him beyond belief, he would have rather been blissfully ignorant than enlightened and suffering. If only he was as strong as Braham. It was a phrase he whispered to himself often, when there was no one around to hear his jealously. Too tired to change or even pull down the sheets on his cot, he plopped down on it and closed his eyes.

* * *

Clyde stood opposite from Duke, each with a blade in hand. Both were ready for a deciding battle. Duke for revenge, Clyde for self-defense. Without speaking, Duke suddenly sped toward Clyde, knife raised in the air. Clyde dropped to his knees and rolled directly under Duke. Surprised by his evasive maneuvers, Duke quickly spun around and swung his knife. Clyde, at the same time, had tried to kick his jaw. Instead, Clyde's boot connected with Duke's knife, and sent it flying behind him. Duke showed a look of complete horror as Clyde took a quick step forward, holding his knife in front of him.

"Duke... It's all your fault. You did this to me." said Clyde, calmly raising the knife.

"W... Wait a minute, Clyde... Let's not make any rash decisions... Right?!" said Duke, extremely nervous.

"This is all your fault..." Clyde repeated, taking another step toward Duke.

"Please... Clyde!! I'm sorry!" pleaded Duke. Clyde kept silent, and brought the knife back, screaming, "This is all your fault. Goddammit, Duke, I HATE YOU!!" He swung. The knife tore through Duke's neck.

Clyde sat up in bed. A cold perspiration lingered on his face. His mother in the other bed, was still sleeping. What the hell was that? he thought, drying off his face, I'd never kill anyone in cold blood like that... Even if it was Duke. He paused to think deeper about the experience and realized, I kept saying, "This is all your fault..."....Wonder what that means.

Afraid to fall back asleep, Clyde took an early morning walk. Dawn was just creeping over the horizon, giving the world a faint light. He walked directly out of Tzen, into the field before it. Clyde had a favorite spot outside town. It was a solitary apple tree in the middle of nowhere. He just felt comfortable, being in that spot, for reasons he couldn't understand. Reaching the tree, he saw an object stuck in its trunk.

As Clyde got closer, he observed it. It was a metal object, with four sharp points, and a small hole in the center. Upon taking it out of the bark, he heard a voice from behind him. "Well now, I see you're interested in my shuriken."

Clyde spun around to see a man with a pitch black hood over his head, and black, skin tight leather armor. He was well defined, even more so than Braham and much larger. He towered over Clyde's five feet, and he suddenly felt as if he were in danger. A large katana hung in a sheath at his side. His face was completely hidden, save for a slit in his mask where an unusual pair of bright blue eyes peered out at him. "Uh... This? Here, take it back." Clyde responded nervously, handing the shuriken back to the man.

"Well thanks, kid. I appreciate it." the man responded. He spoke in a deep, but gentle tone. "You look familiar. Are you from Tzen?" Clyde was surprised. "Um... Yeah. I live in the slums... Where are you from?"

"Yep, I thought so. Actually, I don't live anywhere, really. I travel all around the world. I'm thinkin' about joining the Returners, so I can fight the Empire." the man responded.

"You're gonna fight the Empire?" Clyde questioned, suddenly interested.

"Well, I'll try to. I'm gonna make my way to Narshe."

At the time, Narshe was a mining town, which was also a common place to find the Returners, a faction devoted to stopping the Empire. The Empire was a global army, slowly claiming land forcefully with their overwhelming manpower and technology. With its top scholars, their leader, Emperor Carnak, had hoped to revive the destructive force known as "magic."

Clyde felt it was time to end his little encounter before he got hurt. He sheepishly avoided looking the man in the eyes and lied, "I uh... got some things ta take care of... I really should be going." He turned suddenly and walked away, but before he could go, he felt his switchblade drop from his pocket.

"Uh.. young man? You dropped something..." the man noted. Clyde turned around, and picked the knife up. "That's a nice knife, kid. You know how to use it?"

"Not really... My father gave it to me years ago. He promised to teach me how to defend myself. But now... he's gone now." Clyde responded, sadly.

"Really, kid? How about if I give you a crash course on self defense?" the man offered. Clyde's face suddenly lit up.

* * *

For an entire week straight, Clyde met the ninja man alone in the fields and trained no less than five hours a day. He learned everything the man could teach him, from striking, to evading, and even a loose education on the art of throwing. He knew the ninja would be leaving after today, and he wanted to absorb everything he could.

"Alright... You're about twenty feet away. Take a deep breath, and just hit the trunk." Clyde was still practicing throwing shurikens, and he had quickly mastered hitting the solitary apple tree.

Pausing and taking a deep breath, he focused on his target. His eyes narrowed, and he visualized Duke in the line of fire instead of the tree. Now that he was motivated, he grinned. You ain't gonna bother me anymore, Duke. He swiftly stepped forward and snapped his wrist, driving the flesh-tearing weapon into Duke's heart. He stepped back and grinned again. A corpse can't harm no one... Especially me.

The ninja man retrieved the weapon and brought it back to Clyde. "That was excellent, kid. You learn fast, you know?" Clyde pondered aloud, "I wonder how long it takes for other students to hit this..."

"For me, it took years!" the ninja man answered in amazement, imagining the child's potential for the years to come. He wasn't sure why, but he saw a part of him in his young student; weak, targeted, and alone. The man finally decided to part with a valuable possession of his.

"Kid, I want you to have this."

"What is it?" Clyde asked, curious.

"It's one of my most prized possessions. I want you to have it." the man answered. He took out a straight, single edged katana, a little over a foot long. It bore a neat inscription, reading, "Striker." "This will definitely handle better than the one you have now. I thought you might appreciate it."

Clyde observed the blade in his hands. "Wow.... Thanks!" It was a few hours later, and the sun was barely over the horizon. It was time for his teacher to leave.

"Hey... Why'd you teach me all that stuff, anyway?"

The ninja shrugged. "I guess you looked like someone who needs to protect yourself. It'll come in handy, believe me..." he trailed off, then added, "Plus you seem to have some sorta talent."

Clyde raised an eyebrow. He asked, "What makes you think that?"

The odd man scratched his head, although it couldn't have helped with his leather mask. "Well... When I sparred with you... It really surprised me, you had some speed in those legs of yours... I was gettin' worried for a second!"

"Really?" Clyde asked anxiously, "I thought you were just holding back..."

"Not at all... But I know for sure you can take care of yourself now."

"Hmm." Clyde murmured. "Hey, I never got your name... Mr. uh,-"

"Don't worry about that. It's not important." The ninja turned and walked out of sight. Clyde sat down and thought. He was confused, and yet, he wanted to learn more from that man. He was almost anxious to fight Duke again. He felt that he would be able to win this time.

* * *

Clyde walked back into the Tzen Slums around 10 o' clock, hiding the Striker in his pocket. An idea suddenly popped in his head, and he ran back to the rich section toward the shops. Seeing the building with the knife symbol on the window, Clyde walked inside.

The walls were lined with various weapons. He spotted and could name many of the weapons, as he was fascinated with battle. Dirks, swords, katanas, rods, shurikens, maces, and staves hung from the walls with typical first class prices attached to them. The morning sunlight caught on the countless blades, which cast an indefinite glare upon the room. Upon seeing Clyde, the owner behind the counter developed a nervous twitch. The children of the slums were known for pilfering the richer citizens, and were mostly feared by them.

Clyde walked to the west wall of the shop, and picked three small, but sharp, shurikens off one of the hooks. The owner showed a look of surprise on his face as Clyde brought them to the counter and placed some gold on it. He then asked, "How much are these?" The owner replied, "Th- That'll be 150 gold pieces..."

Clyde dug some more gold out of his pocket and placed in on the counter. Although he couldn't read as well as the richer citizens, Clyde knew what gold was worth, and how it was used. Any child who was born in the slums knew the value of money. It was one of the first things they learned, next to slitting an attacker's throat and robbing tourists. The owner took the gold and added, obviously relieved, "Thank you. Have a nice day." He had not anticipated Clyde to make a proper transaction.

Clyde once again walked toward the Slums, but was stopped as someone stepped in his way. Clyde stepped back and overlooked this person. From the feet up, he wore some sharp looking black leather boots, now almost brown from the dusty, unpaved roads of the slums. A beige color of slacks covered his legs, which were riddled with small holes. And last, a tattered green shirt hung loosely on his shoulders. His face was dirty and worn, almost as much as his clothing. Although his blue shining eyes and wavy black hair looked friendly, Clyde was no friend to them. He casually flexed his overdefined muscles in Clyde's face, like he always did. It was none other than Duke.

"Clyde... Just who I wanted to see." he said, with an evil smile on his face. He spoke with a refined accent, as if he were a higher-class citizen. Clyde had always found that unusual, and he wondered where Duke picked up such a sophisticated tone. But he was too excited about his new skills to deal with anyone, especially Duke. He immediately took the offensive, responding, "Awright Duke, listen up. I don't wanna hear about any threats today. Just don't screw wit' me right now, 'cause I'm not in the mood."

Clyde suddenly felt a little sheepish, as Duke would immediately punch him in the face after such a comment. But Duke had a different response. "Yeah... I can see you're a little pissed off.. But who wouldn't be? No Clyde, I'm not gonna hit you. I think you've had enough." said Duke, the menacing smile disappearing, now replaced with a serious expression.

Clyde was taken back. "Whaddya mean, had enough?" Clyde questioned, showing a look of disbelief on his face. Duke replied, "Yes, you heard me. It's more complicated than ya think, though."

"What does that mean?"

"I'll forgive you on one condition. You come with me and some other guys from town on an old-fashioned robbery." Clyde was surprised at Duke's request. Duke continued on. "Tomorrow, our little gang will walk into the item shop, and demand money. Of course, we'll be wearing hoods. It's just common sense, not to show our faces. After we get our money, we'll head out of town, to the field south of Tzen. Hours later, we'll return to town at different times, not to get anyone suspicious."

Clyde then asked, "And what do we do with the money?" Duke cracked a smile. "You're a smart, man. Of course, I'll get the money. I'll reclaim my fortune, and move back into the rich section with my mother. It's what you want, right?"

"It's fair, that's for sure." replied Clyde. "But I don't know... A robbery? I'm not doin' those anymore..."

"-Make this your last." Duke cut off Clyde's thoughts. "C'mon! It'll be fun!" Duke's sudden kindness made Clyde nervous. "Is Braham coming?" he asked.

"Sure. Bring anyone you want! Just make sure YOU come." replied Duke.

"Can I have some time to think?" he asked.

"Sure. Just meet us by the entrance of the slums, tomorrow morning. ...If you're coming that is."

"Right... Thanks." Clyde walked away, his head clouded in mixed feelings. It was suspicious alright, but what if he were telling the truth? Things would definitely change. No more cracked ribs or bloodied noses. No more quivering in pain as he tried to fall asleep at night. No more fear. It was the closest shot at peace he had ever came across, and he had no intention of passing it up.

Clyde was anxious for tomorrow morning. It was in the afternoon, and he was just walking around the slums. The dusty streets made the summer day much hotter. The sky was gray, and it signaled for oncoming rain. The humidity was intense, and Clyde hoped that tomorrow would be cooler; he didn't work well in unfavorable conditions. He then spotted Braham walking toward him. He jumped up suddenly and ran towards him.

"Yo, Braham!" he yelled as he got close to him. Braham heard Clyde, and walked toward him. "Hey, man. What'cha doing?" Braham then glanced at Clyde's face and recoiled. "That Duke really did a number on your face, huh?" Clyde was puzzled. He replied, "Whaddya talking about?" Braham pointed at his eye, signaling that it was black. "Forget about that," Clyde interrupted, "I just had a talk with Duke..."

"Wha?" Braham questioned. "What'd he want? Nuthin good, I bet..." Clyde scratched his head. "Well, not really.... He wants me to help him rob the item shop. An "old-fashioned robbery," he called it."

"And whaddya gonna get in return?" Braham asked, curious for a reward. "I thought you didn't do robberies no more!"

Clyde responded, "Well... He made a good argument. I help him and some other kids, an' he moves out of town, an' never screws with me again."

"...Nope, that's not too bad after all, huh?" Braham agreed. "So are you gonna do it?"

"Only if you come." Braham flinched at this. He had suddenly realized he had fallen into a very tense predicament. If he helped, he could very well get in trouble himself. If he didn't, his trust would be shaken in Clyde forever. He played it safe and protested, "Why? Duke doesn't hate me!"

"Cause' I wanna take somebody else in case Duke tries to pull sumthin'. An' you're the only someone I trust. Are you coming?" Braham paused, and looked at the dusty, cracked earth by his feet. "I.... guess I gotta support you... Right?" Braham slowly accepted.

"Thanks, Braham. I'll meet you tomorrow morning?" Clyde asked, hoping for a final confirmation.

"....Yeah. Let's do it."

Clyde's eyes lit up. "Awright! Thanks, man, I owe you one!" he responded thankfully.

"Ya sure do... This sounds kinda serious." Braham walked past Clyde and out of sight, not to be seen until the next morning. Feeling too troubled to stay outside any longer, he reluctantly walked back to the small shack he lived in. A loosely hinged door that creaked loudly as it swung open and shut greeted him. Taking a deep breath, he opened it and crept inside. The front room was small, cramped with filthy furniture that released dust the minute someone sat on them. Seeing how no one was inside, he breathed a sigh of relief.

Flopping down on a large and poorly upholstered chair, he closed his eyes to avoid taking in the escaping dust. He felt the need to take a short nap, which was easy since sleep came quickly to him. As he began to feel himself dozing off, he heard a sudden disturbing noise from outside.

He cringed as he realized what was happening. Swinging the door open, a short, old, and sickly looking woman crashed in through the entrance. Her face was very wrinkled, which often housed glaring negative looks of hate and neglect. Her clothes were as ragged as Braham's; they barely fit her pudgy figure. And unfortunately for any onlookers, her undergarments were slightly visible through the holes in her clothing. Seeing Braham, her eyes darkened and she instantly screeched, "Braham! Why ain't you in school?!"

He felt his chance for relaxation slip away, and he sat up frustrated. "It's Saturday, mom. I don't got ta go to school t'day." At this his disgruntled mother scowled and advanced on him. "Don't you be talkin' back ta me... You wanna get cracked 'cross yer face?!"

"No, mom..." Braham trailed off, feeling defeated by ignorant authority once again. The next command was a common and tiring one. As he tried to calmly walk out the door to avoid it, she screeched again, "Don't you be walkin' out on me when I'm still talkin' to ya! Now go cut some firewood! You don't wanna freeze durin' the winter, do ya?!"

Braham sighed and turned for the back door. As he walked out, he heard his mother mutter another rambling string of verbal abuse. "Damn kid... Of all the ones I had ta get... Might as well send ya back to Jidoor where your deadbeat father came from... If I wasn't barren I'd have a nice obedient kid of my own... My own blood, my own damn child..."

Stumbling outside and still feeling the need for a nap, he staggered through the small backyard he had to an ugly, rusted axe. Piled next to it were mounds of unchopped wood, just waiting to take away the positive energy built up in his soul. He hated manual labor, although he owed his semi-buff physique to the many grueling years of it all. In these long hours of lifting and bringing down the heavy axe, over and over again, his hopes and dreams often passed through his mind.

If I could jus' get outta here...

He lifted the axe and swung. From the dull blade came the familiar sound he had endured time and time again. -- thwack.

Then I'd be free. ...And no more orders.


No more abuse, no more neglect.


No more fear.


Any day now. Soon as I get some money...


Look out Jidoor... I'm coming home.


* * *

At the break of daylight, Clyde was waiting. Sitting up in bed for the right hour, ready to begin his mission. Through the small, opaque window of his bedroom, rays of sunlight crept into the pitch-black room. Clyde slowly crept out of bed, already dressed, careful not to wake his mother in the other bed. He leaped silently over the counter in the front room, and opened the front door, ever so cautiously.

Slipping into the fleeting darkness, he made his way to the divider between the Slums and the shopping section. Braham was already there, along with two other kids, younger than Clyde. Duke was among them, totaling the group to a total of five. Duke looked relieved as Clyde walked into sight.

"Well... I was getting worried," said Duke, surprisingly calm, as he saw Clyde. "I didn't think you were gonna show up."

"I couldn't let you down." Clyde responded. Duke chuckled, and it almost made Clyde feel relaxed. They started toward the item shop, which had just opened. Everyone had donned their hoods, as to be sure that nobody saw them. Clyde felt inside his pocket, to make sure he was totally prepared. He had brought the Striker, and his three shuriken. Just in case, he felt that he would need to take some action. He almost felt anxious to practice his new skills, but if the plan worked, he would never fight Duke again.

Some people loitered in the streets. They slinked away when they saw the hooded group. It was now light enough to see, and the item shop was in sight. Duke, in front, stopped and turned around, and motioned for the group to stop. "Well?" Duke asked, overlooking the group. "Ready? Two of us will stick the guy behind the counter up, while the rest will cover them. ...So who's doin' what?" Clyde knew what would happen next. Duke glanced at Clyde and Braham and pointed, "How 'bout you guys? Ill give ya some of the spoils if you do it!" Everyone was careful not to mention each other's names, as to give away their identities without even committing the crime yet.

Clyde nodded, and Braham reluctantly agreed. The group marched into the item shop in a single file line. The old man behind the counter did an instant double take. The five barely fit into the small shop. Vials, potions, ethers, and other curative items lined a few shelves. A large window on the left wall allowed the dawn to flood the shop. Clyde and Braham stepped forward and brandished their knives.

Calmly, Clyde outstretched his hand and said, "Just give me everything you got. Don't make it hard, man." Braham stood silent, and just observed Clyde's work. Of course, the two teenagers remembered one of the most important rules when committing a robbery: Do not turn your back on the clerk. Usually, they would carry a knife in case of emergencies, and turning around would mean accepting it into your back!

The old man slowly reached under the counter and placed a large amount of gold on top. Clyde was about to sweep it into his sack, but he glanced at the man's face, and noticed something. He appeared to be breathing a sigh of relief. Clyde ignored the well known rule, and turned around. To his horror, three city officials stood behind him, armed with rifles. Both teenagers instantly turned white, although it couldn't be seen through their hoods. Duke and the other kids had disappeared, their insane laughter could be heard outside. Clyde pieced it together almost instantly in his head. Duke... You little son of a bitch... You set me... and Braham up!

One of the officials spoke up and interrupted Clyde's thoughts. "Now... Just put the knives down, and come with us..." The negotiations didn't fool Clyde. He would not be taken in for being tricked by Duke.

Softly, he nudged Braham's leg with his foot. Braham glanced at him, puzzled. In a sudden bolt in movement, Clyde ran toward the window, covering his face and chest, and leapt through it in an explosion of glass! Everyone froze after this, including Braham. But when the officials regained their composure and came at him, he followed Clyde's example and dived out the already shattered window!

Several gunshots could be heard from outside the shop, tearing through the walls where Clyde and Braham were previously standing! As both teenagers ran out of town, they heard the officials' voices far away, "....Damn kids! Get some other units! Everyone spread out and find them!"

* * *

Clyde and Braham reached the field outside Tzen, panting. Braham was the first to speak. "Ya see what'cha get when you trust that little bastard?! Huh?!" Clyde kept silent, and tried to catch his breath. "Yeah... That's right. We're criminals now. Maybe we'll get lucky if we come back into town with our hoods off, and change our clothes."

"...It's the- (puff) best we can hope for.... Right?" Clyde responded, sheepishly. He knew that Braham would be mad at him for this for quite some time now. But Braham suddenly apologized. "..Sorry. I guess I kinda rubbed it in too much. This has gotta be hard on you too..."

"Yeah... Where the hell's your cheery little face like always? ...Ahh, forget it." he said in response to Braham's angry look. "What're we gonna do now?"

"Well..." Braham hesitated, "I guess we should stay out here until they calm down back there." Clyde nodded, and sat down. "I just can't believe this..."

* * *

A few hours later, when the bright afternoon sun replaced the morning dawn, Clyde and Braham were resting on a hill further out from town. Neither had said a word for a few hours. The sun seemed to direct all it's heat toward the two teens. It was unbearably hot, and both of them were sweating terribly. There were no water sources nearby, so the only alternative was to take the heat.

Clyde glanced toward the direction of Tzen, and noticed a heavy-booted figure hulking toward them. He immediately shook Braham and warned him. "Yo, Braham! Wake up, man! We got company." Braham sat up, startled, and looked at the figure in the distance. "It's only one person... It can't be the fuzz..."

"So who could it- Oh man..." Clyde suddenly realized, "Its Duke." Braham immediately became angry. "I'm gonna kill that little bastard. Let's go meet up with him."

"Yeah... For once I agree. Let's get some closure. I think the two of us can take him on." Clyde agreed, and was anxious for a final battle against his rival. They stood up, and ran toward Duke at full speed, hoping to surprise him. Once they got close, Duke stopped, and let the two teens run toward him.

As they came at him side by side, he prepared to hit one and take the hit from the other. Finally, when they reached him, Duke took a fighting stance. He prepared to hit Clyde, But he surprised him as he stopped, and performed a perfect back flip, avoiding Duke's fist! The next thing he felt was Braham's heavy knuckles slamming into his cheek! The force knocked him down, while Braham and Clyde stood side by side, waiting to attack him.

Stepping back, Braham murmured to himself, "Wonder how he learned ta do that..."

Duke slowly stood up, and wiped some blood from his nose. "Well now, you seem angry about something."

"Cut the crap, you little S.O.B!" Clyde shouted, powered by white-hot rage. "This is all your fault!" Clyde suddenly paused. Did I just say...?

"Well... You deserved it." Duke interrupted Clyde's thoughts. "And I kept my end of the bargain, didn't I? I forgive you, Clyde."

"Wh... Wha?" Clyde answered, puzzled. "But you didn't get any money..."

"Nahh... forget about that." Duke suddenly sounded friendly. "I replaced that with sumthin' else."

Braham then questioned, "Yeah... And what would that be?"

"Oh, the replacement for the money?" Duke asked. "Yeah... Well, I'm a witness to your robbery. Therefore, I informed the fuzz about your names and homes and such. Ya know... All the stuff needed to find a pair of criminals..."

"You did WHAT?!" Clyde and Braham exclaimed almost in unison. "You didn't really-"

"Oh yeah. I did it alright." Duke cut off Clyde darkly with a menacing grin. "But I think we're even now... Right?"

"I can't believe he..."

"Clyde..." Duke taunted suddenly, "Do you know your father?"

Clyde froze suddenly. Slowly and cautiously he answered, "Yeah... He skipped town almost four years ago... What's this about?"

"I used to be so rich... So powerful." Duke mouthed, consumed by anger. "When I first moved here with my mother and father... I lived in the rich section."

"What?!" exclaimed Braham, stepping forward. "So what the hell're you doin' in the slums now?"

"I knew Clyde's father, just for a few short moments." he continued, seeming to lose his composure. His words were muttered through clenched teeth, showing much hatred for his subject.

"What are you talkin' about?!" Clyde demanded to know.

Duke picked his head up, eyes narrowed on his target. "Do you know what your father did before he skipped town?" he asked anxiously.


"We were just moving in..." Duke began, "...had a beautiful home... And your father showed up, acting as a salesman."

"I don't get you..."

"He was sly alright..." Duke continued on, "and he left my home with everything he could carry... And my father's life."

Clyde stopped breathing for a time. He had known his father was a lower form a life, but murder? He couldn't possibly imagine the scene, the horror of a rich family broken apart and robbed just as they moved in. Braham was the first to speak. "So that's why you hate him so much..." he realized, feeling the urge to slap his forehead.

"But I didn't do anything..." whined Clyde, "My dad was a complete dirtbag... And you respond by torturing me all these years?!"

"Well, I figure, like father, like son." Clyde suddenly could not contain himself any more. All the years of hurting... The lost blood and broken bones, all cause of some immature grudge! He whipped out the Striker. "Well... maybe you're right!" he screamed.

Duke smiled. "What… You're gonna kill me now? Sure... I've been waiting for a deciding battle for quite some time." he said, drawing a switchblade.

Clyde stood opposite from Duke, each with a blade in hand. Both were ready for a deciding battle. Duke for revenge, Clyde for self-defense. Without speaking, Duke suddenly sped toward Clyde, knife risen in the air. Clyde dropped to his knees and rolled directly Duke. Surprised by his evasive maneuvers, Duke quickly spun around and swung his knife. Clyde, at the same time, had tried to kick his jaw. Instead, Clyde's boot connected with Duke's knife, and sent it flying behind him. Duke showed a look of complete horror as Clyde took a quick step forward, holding his knife in front of him.

"Duke... It's all your fault. You did this to me." said Clyde, calmly raising the Striker.

"W... Wait a minute, Clyde... Let's not make any rash decisions... Right?!" said Duke, extremely nervous.

"This is all your fault..." Clyde repeated, taking another step toward Duke.

"Please... Clyde!! I'm sorry!" pleaded Duke. Clyde kept silent, and brought the Striker back, screaming, "This is all your fault. Godammit, Duke, I hate you!!" He swung. The Striker tore through Duke's neck.

The blood splattered from Duke's slashed jugular. Clyde didn't care as it splashed on his face and clothes. Still consumed with rage, he watched as he grasped at his neck, sinking to the ground. But Duke still flashed an almost grim smile. He finally managed to whisper out, in a raspy and scratchy tone, "...just as I said, like father, like son." and collapsed on the ground. His blood would soon escape and surround him, a deep crimson pool for the field monsters to feast on.

Braham, who observed the battle, turned pale. The first sight of so much blood horrified him. He turned from the corpse, feeling the need to vomit. On top of that, he knew exactly what would happen next. Clyde simply stood over Duke and watched him bleed. Neither teenager moved, but attempted to digest the situation. Minutes later, Braham made the first move, after he had overcame his nausea.

"So... You finally won Clyde." he said, his voice shaking. Clyde kept silent and still looked a Duke, now a bloody mess on the ground.

"You happy now?!" Braham screamed suddenly, grabbing him by the collar and shaking him, "This's what happens when you listen to that little bastard! And lookit us now, we're criminals!" He dropped Clyde and glared at him. "You have any idea what they'll do to us?" he muttered darkly, speaking only inches from Clyde's downcast face.

"Aw, just shaddap, awright?!" Clyde exclaimed as he shoved Braham out of his personal space, "And you woulda done the same thing, Mr. 'let's get some closure!'" Braham's face softened, and he looked at Duke's corpse.

"...And yet..." said Braham, softly, "...I don't blame you."

* * *

"So now what?" asked Braham. Another hour had passed, and the afternoon was coming to a close. The air had finally cooled down, and the humidity had dispelled. Clyde kept silent, sitting on the cool grass, his back to Duke's corpse. "Are you ok? I mean, from goin' through the window. That took guts, man."

"Yeah, I'm fine... Few cuts, nothing bad." Clyde responded.

"Doesn't all that blood bother you? I mean, look... You're almost soaked in it." Braham asked, showing a look of disgust as he observed his friend's clothes. "Hell, if that was me, I probably woulda threw my kidneys up or sumthin'. I woulda just plain died, right there. ...And it don't bother you at all?" Clyde ran his fingers over his painted garments, and sighed.

"I dunno why..." he began, staring at the blood, "But it just don't bother me none... Doesn't really matter, right?"

"Guess not." Braham answered, quickly retracting the conversation. He decided he wanted to stray far from the topic of blood for the moment. He was still getting used to the corpse only a few yards away from them.

"We can't go back, ya know." Braham reminded him. Clyde once again studied the blood on his tattered clothes. His shirt was nearly covered in dried blood, and he had never wiped it off his face. The result was a red-orange film on his clothes and skin. Braham was right. They couldn't go back.

"This is all my fault." Clyde finally acknowledged.

"You don't hafta say it now. Its bad enough." he replied.

"If we can't go back... Then where're we gonna go...?" asked, Clyde, afraid of the answer he would get.

"We're criminals. What do criminals do?" Braham inferred the answer upon Clyde.

"We run...."

Final Fantasy 6 Fanfic