He froze when I entered the room. “Y-you.”
He made a dash for the window, abandoning the last of his intended targets. With a push from my mind I made an illusion of the window a foot from where it actually was, covering up the real window with a simple cloak. In his mad dash for escape he did not notice the change and charged right into the wall. As he fell backward I finished the spell that barred him from leaving. I had pursued him as prey, and I had captured him. From the floor he looked up to me, terror in his eyes and in every tense muscle of his body.
“Shædo Darkshad,” he whispered, his mind no doubt rushing through all the terrible things he had heard about me.
“Wævre... Eriiku, wasn’t it?”
His terror froze his voice as his body trembled. My eyes softened at his fear, and I put my kodachi, the traditional weapon of the Nightshades, away. He could not have been more than 16 years old, a year older than I when I became a Shædo.
“Do you know your victims?” I asked softly, waving a hand over the bloody carnage. Surprised by my question he could only shake his head numbly.
“The Kano family,” I stated, keeping my eyes off the corpses. No matter how many times I had killed, no matter how much blood I’d seen, I still detested the sight of slaughter.
He looked at me blankly.
“Kano Faramaru was an only child, married Tesene Nami at age 18; both their parents died, leaving them the last of the Kano and Tesene names. Now they and their son are dead. Their son, Kano Yama, was planning to marry Nite Mara. You have left her alone and heart-broken. Their daughter Kano Tesene just turned 14, and had to watch her family slaughtered before her eyes. Do you know why?”
Eriiku finally composed himself to defend his murdering group. “Tesene Nami’s father was accused of treason 10 years ago, escaping with the help of traitors!”
I waited impatiently for him to continue, though I knew he would not, and finally cooled my frustration. “I used to be one of the Daybreakers,” I told him quietly.
“Impossible!” he blurted.
I knelt down beside him. “Let my submit my consciousness to you, so that you may see for yourself why I became one of the Nightshades.”
Murmuring my technique under my breath, I placed my hand on his clammy brow. His blood-spattered hands clenched, he was unable to react more quickly than that. He was unexperienced, naive, not adept at the skills of the assassins. Just as I had been, when I didn’t understand how similar and yet how very opposite the assassin bands, the Nightshades and the Daybreakers, were. Closing out the world around me, I entered his mind.
I was born 8 months after conception, like all assassin children are. Do you know why? It’s not being an assassin that makes the mother die from giving birth at 8 months, it is that event which makes a child fit to be an assassin. Born early, I was frail and weak like we all are. My father was not the kind that clings to the child as a memory of his wife, instead kind that curses the child and leaves him alone. I was brought up by the Eclipse assassins, the neutral ones who performed very little work themselves. They spent their time instead creating new techniques and raising assassin children to test them. Despite their motives, they were not unkind people, and I was treated the same as most other children aside from the training. I trained hard to become an assassin; not because I particularly wanted to, but that was that they told me, all I knew, so that was what I did. The Eclipse guild had pacts with the Nightshades and Daybreakers, giving them each an equal amount of assassins each year, keeping few for themselves. It was thought by many then there was only one difference between the Nightshades and Daybreakers, that one group worked by night, the other solely during the day.
When I was 10, that all changed.
The Eclipse guild was destroyed during an eclipse, when it was neither night nor day and the blame would not easily fall on either group of assassins. I was taken by the Daybreakers at that point to be one of them. They told me, and the world, that the Nightshades had done the horrid deed and were a group born from evil. The Daybreakders also told most of the children that it was the Nightshades who killed our mothers. Frantic for a reason for this madness, no one doubted them, and the Nightshades became horrors in bedtime tales. I trained harder than ever before to become a skilled assassin now that I had a purpose: I was going to kill all Shædos for my mother’s death.
I was sent on my first mission at 14; like you, I asked no questions and doubted naught of what they told me. I killed. I killed so many, I can not even remember them all. I was a killing machine taking orders from a group everyone believed in. But people tend to believe in things they can not prove, because they want the easy way of it all.
I was not terribly skilled for my age, but I was ahead of most of my classmates. Thus I was not surprised when I was ordered to go almost alone on an extremely important mission. If I succeeded in this mission, I would be ready to go against the Nightshades. But something happened that day, something I saw and did not like. My partner was a much older assassin, sent mostly to observe my actions, and to step in if things got out of hand.
They got out of hand.
When I reached the estate in the afternoon, the family who was my target had gone out. I was ordered to search for them, and I did. By the time I found them it was nightfall, and I expected to be pulled out. I was not. I reasoned that, since the Nightshades weren’t doing only night work anymore, the Daybreakers must clean up after them. Part of me doubted this, but I went ahead anyway.
The family had hired guards to protect them, and I got careless. I managed to finish off the primary target, the father, but swooned from loss of blood and fell to the ground. My partner jumped in, then, finishing the guards. I was ready to continue, but he stared me down with a sneer. I had never had any friends, and known none who did, but I felt a chill down my spine at what my partner thought of me. While I sat there, trying to heal myself, he slaughtered the rest of the targets until all who were left was a young boy holding his infant sister. The boy was frightened but held his ground, trying with all his might to protect his sister. Against trained assassins he had no chance, but my partner didn’t kill him. Instead he grabbed the infant from his arms and slit her throat before his eyes. The boy went mad and charged at the assassin, who slit his gut but did not finish him.
“He’ll die in a few minutes,” he said, grabbing my arm and jumping out of there with me. Nothing was said of this, but I never forgot that boy’s mad eyes as he wriggled in agony on the floor, soaked in his own blood, spending the last moments of his life in a pool of moonlight. He never screamed, not even once.
I was an assassin, expected to forget my experience and move on. Part of me did, training with new vigor. Part of me did not.
Finally the day of my 15th birthday arrived, and I was promoted to a 2nd class Wævre. I was so proud, so full of myself, so ready to take on the whole population of Shædos. I requested a Nightshade mission, and my request was granted. I was going to infiltrate the Nightshade hideout and kill all members of a ‘meeting’ they told me was being held in an inner room of the complex. I asked no questions, and left at daybreak. The Nightshades, struggling to get by since their reputation was ruined, were in a sorry state. I snuck into their hideout with relative ease and found the room in under an hour. That’s when everything changed. This room, this special room with cherry-wood doors and a silver handle, this room was not a meeting room. It was not a family apartment. It was not a kitchen, an eating room, a bathing room, or a gameroom. No., this room was a nursery. More than 30 Nigthshade children were playing harmless assassin games with each other. The eldest was maybe 6, the youngest not even crawling. It would only have taken me a few minutes to finish this ‘meeting’, I could’ve returned in no time and been promoted to 1st class. But I couldn’t, I couldn’t. I remembered the baby girl killed before her brother, and I could not do it. I might’ve come around in a minute or two, but I stalled long enough. Six Shædows caught me with my claw half out of my pocket, the children still played happily. I was drugged immediately.
When regained consciousness I was not where I could’ve expected to be. All stories of the Nigthshades go on and on about small dark rooms with spiders or snakes and hot irons. Instead, I was in a run-down wooden room, with dust floating freely and sunshine pouring in through cracks in the walls. In front of me stood a tired-looking old man with sideburns who folded his fingers around each other and asked me, “Why didn’t you kill them?”
I was as shocked as you were a moment ago, and could not answer.
Someone behind me tapped me with the blade of their kodachi and I jumped a foot in the air, landing hard on my behind. Someone snickered, but the old man did not move. He still expected an answer, and I couldn’t give one.
“Are you a Wævre or a Shædo?” he said after some time had passed.
I swallowed, finding my mouth very dry. “May I ask one question?”
“You may ask.”
I swallowed again, about to express in words what I had always been too afraid to find out. “Where are the surviving members of the Eclipse guild?” It was a question many of the Daybreaker students had discussed, but never dared ask the teachers, who always looked stern whenever the name of the Eclipse came up, and a stern assassin is not a friendly assassin.
The old Shædo regarded me thoughtfully, finally answering in his dry tone, “I am one, Echomaru is another, and another two were spared by you.”
I could not doubt his words, for I saw the moon mark on his neck and had seen it on the two little ones who had been practicing advanced illusion spells in the corner of the nursery. That meant one thing to me right then: if the Nightshades had slaughtered the Eclipses, why would the survivors seek refuge here? It meant the ones who destroyed the Eclipse was not the Nightshades, but the Daybreakers. No, do not argue. You only believe what the Daybreakers always told you, but you never bothered to find out if it was the truth. You are angry, but you can not deny it. No normal assassin can show false memories in a mind link. But wait, there’s more. That’s not all the Daybreakders did. Do you want to hear more? Silence. All right, I’ll continue then.
I thought about what I had heard for many long minutes, but nobody moved a muscle. I realized I was in the presence of the most skilled assassins in the country, and they were all Shædos. I was in awe of their power, and wanted it too. But more than that, I wanted to stop the sick crusade of the Daybreakers. I didn’t know why they had done those thing, but it seemed to me the Shædos did. I made up my mind, and lifted my head to look squarely at the Eclipse leader of the Nightshades.
“I am not a Wævre anymore.”
His stern look softened, and then he smiled a little bit. “You stopped being one the moment that ugly claw of yours froze. No true Wævre would ever hesitate in killing anyone, especially the defenseless.”
I knew he was right.
As a member of the Nightshades, my training was very different. In the bad years the Nightshades experienced they had perfected what skills they could, including those of teaching. I learned much, more efficiently than ever, and I’d never had so much fun. Echomaru, the Eclipse survivor, was only a few years older than I. Despite the cruel prank he’d played with his kodachi my first day, we became friends, sparring with each other every day. He was a practical joker, and though I preferred training to being in on one of his games, I never ceased finding them amusing. I also befriended Daichi, one of the many friends Echomaru had. Yes, friends. The color and the feeling you are getting from me are unknown to you, I’m sorry for that, but that is how the Daybreakers work. The Nightshades are different We are more like one big family constantly growing and losing members. I’ve grieved for many since I joined 2 years ago, but I’ve never been so happy. I rose quickly, until my level was the highest (10) and I had earned the name of Darkshad amongst the Daybreakers. I learned what I wanted soon after my arrival, before I learned the real hideout of the Nightshades. I won’t tell you the location of our hidden base, but I will tell you why I hate the Daybreakers more than ever.
Their atrocities started some years, 3 or 4, before the end of the Eclipse. The Daybreakers had been getting increasingly lax in their skills, lazy in their training, and snub-nosed in their missions. They got so bad that they were forced to carry out missions at night so they wouldn’t be detected. This led to anger against the Nightshades for owning the night, making it ‘easier for them’ in the eyes of the Daybreakers. They started killing off Nightshade assassins randomly. Then a new leader was elected after bringing forth the idea of getting rid of the Eclipse ‘nuisance’ and at the same time framing the Nightshades. It took some time to work that plan out, but your leader is a genius, and the plan was executed exactly how he wanted it.
Since then the Daybreakers have dominated the assassins’ market, taking all and any jobs. From anyone as long as the price is high. Ethics? The Daybreakers chew the very concept and spit it in the mud to trample. Assassins used to have codes and rules. The Nightshades still do.
This girl’s grandfather was never arrested for treason. The truth is far simpler, a fact of human greed; a neighbor was extremely jealous of the family. This neighbor, consequently, would inherit the Kano fortune. The Daybreakers knew all this, you are responsible for your own ignorance. The government doesn’t have the funds or backing to afford many assassins. Do you still think ‘treason’ is why you kill so many people? Even the government is loath to part with yen for ‘treason’ no one remembers. The Daybreakers train mass-murderers, not assassins. The Wævres are killing for nothing but money, and they don’t only stick to specific targets... they enjoy it. Decide for yourself if you think that is right.
I broke the connection, knowing that if I went on any longer I would become dangerously emotional. Assassins must be stable on a mission, and right now my mission was to kill this young Wævre. Really, though, I wouldn’t if the boy said the right words. His fate was in his own hands, he would decide if he lived or died. I waited for him, giving him five minutes. Then I drew my kodachi and held it before him.
“Any last words?” I asked.
He lifted his head to reveal a tear-stained face and mournful eyes. I knew then what he would say. “Take care of her,” he said, in a voice barely above a whisper.
“You would join us,” I said softly. I knew he would refuse.
“I want — my father must know I died in battle,” he said, gulping more tears back.
For a moment I regretted forcing the knowledge and emotions on him in such a way he would have no control of himself. “Death is no grand adventure.”
“I know. That is why I deserve it.”
I nodded, and then I killed him.
The girl awoke before I could decide what to do with her. She saw my face, saw my bloody kodachi, and screamed.
“Damnit!” I swore, wiping my weapon and sheathing it in one fluid motion.
“Shut up,” I told her, walking to her. She saw her dead family and screamed some more, unable to do anything else in her state of shock. I walked closer, and saw her tense as if to jump away.
“Shut up or his companions will come for you too,” I ordered, pointing to the claw marks on all the bodies.
She stopped screaming abruptly. “Oh,” she whispered, and her unclenched her fist. A dagger fell to the floor.
“Oh,” I said, realizing that she might have killed me. I was stupid for letting my guard down.
“I don’t understand,” she murmured, putting a hand on the wound in her side. “You are the legendary Nightshade, are you going to kill me?” Her voice was steady and stern, but it didn’t fool me. She was acting rationally because she was in shock: if she came out of it I would be in trouble.
“No. Shædos must have reasons to kill.”
She got to her feet, then gazed at me, her eyes level with mine. “I understand. I listened on. Sort of.”
“Impossible,” I said briskly.
“But so is being skilled as an assassin when I was not born as one and am not short and small.”
I bristled, despite my training. Of course assassins are small, they have to be. “It’s impossible.”
“It’s not. You assassins think you’re so wonderful, but you never look anywhere else for comparison. My family were experts in the assassin arts.”
“You mean magic.”
I stared at the big-eyed girl, unsure of what to do.
“Take me with you or I’ll die,” she said quietly, her eyebrows curling.
She was about to snap: I had no other choice. “Swear to me, now,” I commanded.
“I swear to you, I will be a true Shædo, I will follow the ways of the Nightshades, I will not endanger them — I swear to you, cousin Kano Jaisukeru.”
I could not tell if her words were truth or not, but right then I had to believe them. More than that, I wanted to. I picked her up, and a split second later we were gone. The Wævres would find the mess, and take care of Eriiku. I regretted killing the boy, it hurt especially after sharing a connection. I would not forget him.
Tesene passed out before we reached Nightshade headquarters, which was just as well, because I should have drugged her anyway. Without fuss her wound was treated, only then did Eclipse question me.
“She says I am her cousin,” I said tonelessly.
The reply came a moment later. “That is correct.”
I clenched my teeth. “Did you know before you sent me?”
“I thought you might be the son of her aunt, but I did not know.”
“You could have found out.”
“I could have, and I am sorry. We should have been able to save more of your family.”
“My family,” I echoed. It was strange, being able to say those words and finally have them mean something. “How did she know?” I wondered aloud.
“That, you will have to ask her yourself.”
“Is she going to stay?”
“You know the answer. Do you want her to?”
“Yes. She is intelligent. And skilled.”
“Then I am sorry.”
He looked me sternly in the eye, with no answer and the inability to hear any more questions. I left the room with no idea of what to do with my cousin.
“I say we keep her,” came a familiar voice on my right.
“You heard him, Echomaru.”
“I mean in secret. She’s cute.”
“She’s my cousin.”
“And the poor girl has nowhere to go, no profession to take but that of an assassin taught to her by her daring cousin... and his dashing friend, of course.”
“You never like breaking rules, do you?”
“This is too important to.” Echomaru frowned. “I know. That makes all the more reason for us to do it.”
I stopped to face him, unused to seeing him this way. “You’re serious, that’s unusual.”
“Why shouldn’t others get the chance to be assassins? We need to recruit more anyway, as the Daybreakers are still taking most of the newborns. We could use at least one tall person on the team.”
“She’s not taller, she’s the same height, and we don’t work in teams.”
“Can’t we give her a chance? Preventing her from doing this would be just like the Daybreaker way.”
“They don’t let anyone choose.”
I closed my eyes to think. It was a hard choice to make. There weren’t many female assassins as it was, and there had never been a normal child raised as an assassin. Most of the facts were against me, but my feelings played too much into it. I opened my eyes, and nodded. “All right.”
Echomaru grinned triumphantly. “Yes! Finally a cute girl in my squad!”
“This isn’t an army, and if you get anywhere near Tesene I’ll whip you.”
“You’ve never beat me before!”
“I will now,” I assured him, but he only laughed.
We didn’t let Daichi in on the secret, because he had problems keeping them. This was something I would regret later, but at the time it was the logical choice.