Shadow of the Assasin
The Life and Times of Clyde Arrowny Chapter 4
Relm brushed a stray wisp of hair out of her eye, only to have a cool breeze blow it back. She was lying back on a pleasantly green hill, a commodity which she no longer took for granted. During the long year of Kefka's reign, and the long years of recovery afterwards, green had been a very rare color. Now it was everywhere, and it was wonderful. The cool breeze blew by again, reminding her that summer was almost over. But she didn't worry. Summer would come again, now.
All in all, Relm was happy. She was twenty-one now, in the prime of her life. Her paintings were finally being appreciated by the uncultured residents of Thamasa. Of course, a few people had always liked her paintings, or said they did, but they were in the minority. Perhaps the problem had been that, for so long, there had been very little worth painting except memories. People had been so jaded that memories of beauty were somewhat painful to think of even as they were sweet, like bitter honey.
"Deep in thought again, Miss Arrowny?" a voice asked from behind her. Relm didn't have to look back to know who it was. Still, she did lie back with her head on her arms and look up at the inverted vision of the young man standing above her.
"Very deep, Mr. Kent," Relm replied, smiling slightly. She patted the grass beside her, and Dylan accepted the invitation, sitting down next to her. Like her, Dylan was thin, tall, and blond, but he had a powerful build despite his lack of width. He was handsome and knew it. He was well aware that half of the girls in Thamasa were batting their eyes at him and buying new dresses, hoping he would notice. Dylan was a mainlander, after all, and thus an object of desire for all the girls that had never left home. However, he did a good job of pretending that he didn't notice. After all, he wasn't interested in them.
"And what were you considering, Relm?" Dylan continued. "Dreaming about the mainland again? Wondering what you were going to paint next? Worrying about your grandfather?"
Relm shrugged. "All of the above and then some." She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think about all sorts of things." She glanced over at him. He didn't seem to have noticed the deep breath. Damn. "So, what brings you out here, Dill?"
Dylan looked as if she'd asked a silly question. "You," he answered, as if it was obvious. He shifted to lie on his back just as she had and pretended not to notice her slight blush. He stared at the sky for a long while. "It's good to see it so blue again."
Relm nodded. It was true, though not exactly poetic. Art was something of a closed door to Dylan, though he tried. It didn't help her optimism, though, when he couldn't tell what it was she had painted. She shrugged it off. He had other good points.
"By the way," he continued, "the seamstress wanted me to tell you your dress is done. She kept winking at me when she said it, though, like there was something special about it. What kind of dress is it?"
"It's my Freedom Day dress," Relm answered, referring to the holiday celebrating the fall of Kefka. "I'm going to be dancing with my partner for the day in that dress, assuming I can breathe in it. I gave it to the seamstress because it was too tight, but she might have just washed it and left it at that."
Dylan nodded, putting a hand to his chin. He could never remember to shave until he almost had an actual beard, so he ended up with a perpetually scruffy, itchy jaw. "Hmm, that's right. Freedom Day is coming up soon. So, who do you think you'll be partnered with?"
"Well," Relm replied as if she didn't care, "if somebody asks to be my partner, it won't be up to chance."
Dylan nodded again. "You're right." He looked over at her. "I'll tell Tom to ask you, so you don't get stuck with Gordon."
He recoiled slightly in pain as Relm reached over to punch him in the shoulder. "You do that," she threatened with mock severity, "and... and... I'll paint a picture of you that makes you look really dumb."
Dylan rolled onto his side so that his face was right before hers. "Well, I can't have that." He leaned closer and softly kissed her lips. They remained thus for about ten seconds, before Dylan withdrew. "See you tomorrow," he promised, "after the match."
Relm was too breathless to berate him for participating in the match again, or even to say goodbye. In the end, Dylan ran a finger along her cheek, got up, and jogged back to Thamasa. Relm remained on the hill for a long time, alone. When she finally got up, it was dark outside.
The splash of cool water on his face was more for refreshment than for the purpose of waking him up; Emitt was fully awake the moment his eyes opened. Using his hands, Emitt wiped the cold well-water from his face, and ran his wet hands through his hair. He stood up straight and glanced in a nearby mirror.
He was as fit as a forty-year old could reasonably expect to be. Better, in fact. Still, he could feel old aches and pains more sharply than he used to. His left knee made a clicking sound every time he went up stairs, and his lower back was always sore when he woke up. His hair, of course, was still jet-black because he was coloring it. He didn't know how much grey that blackness hid, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
He glanced out the window, saw Relm's house, frowned. Nothing made him feel older than the simple unmarked stone that still remained on Relm's lawn: a tombstone. Interceptor had been almost fifteen years old when he finally succumbed to old age. Still, his last few years in Thamasa had seemed content.
Emitt stretched a bit, loosening up his joints. He'd helped put up a new house yesterday, belonging to one of the mainlanders moving to peaceful Thamasa, fleeing the prospect of war. He'd done twice the work of any other man, and was a little sore. Once, he would have done twice as much as he had and felt ready to do it again the next day, but those days were over. He wasn't old yet, not by a long shot, but he'd reached and passed his prime. Over a decade of battle had sapped much of strength, and he feared he was aging a little too quickly. Days seemed to fly by, now.
Now fully dressed, Emitt opened a drawer and pulled out a sword, encased in its sheath. Three months ago, he'd drawn a sword for the first time in years, because a young man had asked Emitt to teach him how to fight. Despite all he could do to avoid it, the rumor had spread through Thamasa that he was a retired warrior. It was true enough, but he could only wonder if perhaps Relm had helped the rumor along. And, since rumor is often stronger than fact, this young man by the name of Dylan had been certain that Emitt truly was a warrior, and had been adamant that Emitt teach him.
Everyone had been so eager to see some action that somebody had actually given Emitt a rusty, unused blade to practice with Dylan. Emitt had declined to teach the young man, on the grounds that he didn't want to lift a sword again, but Dylan, the whole town, and (most importantly) Relm had insisted, and he finally gave in. That Saturday morning, though he was out of practice, Emitt so utterly defeated Dylan that he was certain that he'd never have to deal with this nonsense again.
The next Saturday, five boys, from nine years old to twenty, were gathered on his doorstep. They had brought a sword to share, and they wanted him to teach them. He had shut the door in their faces.
The Saturday after that, twelve boys, including Dylan, were gathered on his doorstep. The next week, there were fourteen boys and a girl. They all returned the week after that, and the week after that. Finally, Emitt relented and agreed to teach them.
Emitt opened the door, and was greeted by fifteen young faces that immediately fell silent. Ever since he'd shown his prowess with a weapon, these boys (and the girl, who was as stubborn as the boys) had begun to treat him with a respect that bordered on reverence. Emitt nodded to them, and they moved out of his way, allowing him to lead the way out of Thamasa, to a small flat area between two hills.
When they arrived, a circle formed around Emitt. He drew his rusty sword and let his sword-arm hang at his side. He dropped the sheath, and waited for his first challenger. The first, as always, was Dylan. Among the fifteen, Dylan was easily the most skilled. He fought with a determination that at once impressed and worried Emitt. He didn't want to be responsible for creating a bully.
When first they'd begun, Dylan had run headlong at Emitt, swinging his sword. Now the young man advanced slowly, keeping his sword between himself and his instructor. Emitt didn't move a muscle as Dylan cautiously approached. Dylan stopped then, just out of Emitt's reach. He paused, as if waiting for a signal, but Emitt gave away nothing.
Dylan's sword whistled as he swung it upward, heading straight for Emitt's neck. Emitt himself simply leaned back, allowing the blade to pass by. He still didn't lift his own sword. Dylan swung again, this time at Emitt's chest. Emitt just stepped back, unharmed. Again and again, Dylan attacked his instructor, and many of the attacks would have killed Emitt if they had hit. But not one did.
Finally, Emitt's sword flew up and around Dylan's head, swept downward, and slammed into Dylan's sword. With a sharp clang, the blade dropped from the young man's hand. Dylan grabbed his arm to quell the pain of the sudden impact. The next thing he knew was that the point of Emitt's rusty sword was against his chest.
Dylan paused as if unsure whether he should try to pick up his sword or not. However, in the end, he bowed his head slightly and said "Thank you, Instructor."
Emitt tried not to roll his eyes at the tradition; every time Dylan lost, he thanked Emitt and called him "Instructor." Emitt nodded at him and signaled for him to go stand among the others. Dylan complied, and another, younger boy stepped forward. He picked up the sword Dylan had dropped, and stepped into a fighting stance. However, before he could begin, Emitt motioned him to stop.
"What's that on your cheek?" Emitt asked.
The boy blinked, surprised. He put his hand to the cheek in question. "Oh, this. I was practicing with Jem, over there, and-"
"Go home," Emitt interrupted. "Both of you." The boys stared at Emitt incredulously. Emitt's jaw tightened. "I said, go. You are not to practice on your own, not until you can keep from getting hurt. What would have happened if Jem's sword had hit you a few inches lower? Your neck would have been cut, and you wouldn't be here now. You may return next week." The boys continued to stare at him. "Go!" Emitt shouted, and the boys took off running. He turned his glare on the others present. "Have any of the rest of you been practicing without me? If so, go home now and return next week or not at all."
Three boys bowed their heads slightly and walked off. The rest remained, unperturbed by the scene. One boy stepped forward. "May I practice with you now, Instructor?"
Emitt stared at the boy as if he was some strange animal he'd never seen before. Why did these boys feel that they needed to learn to use swords? He looked off into the distance, toward the mainland, where war brewed. Where the remnants of the Cult of Kefka lived in Doma castle. Where King Edgar of Figaro had been deposed and was now missing. Where a strange figure had been seen roaming the battlefields, a figure wearing black, and calling himself Shadow. He looked at them and understood. They were preparing to defend Thamasa, should Thamasa need them.
He turned back to the young boy. "Yes. Yes, you may."
"Whoever desires peace, let him prepare for war."