Looking Through Fresh Eyes 6: Rising up to the challenge of our rival

(Tying up a dangling loose end left hanging at the end of Nature Studies)

Right, to it again after time spent doing other things (deviantArt, the L-Space Wiki and military modelling) ... This episode's soundtrack is as bit cheesy, but I hope appropriate to the context, which includes hot girl-on-girl action. (In the swordfighting arena, of course. Where did you think I meant?)

The morning mail and newspapers arrived at the Assassins' Guild. Mr Stippler and Mr Maroon, the porters, received the morning mail with a few genial words exchanged with the postman, who they recognised as another member of the working proletariat doing a sound job for a day's dollar. Sometimes there was even time for a smoke-break and a cup of tea. (It helped that the postman doing the Guilds walk on Filigree Street was also a member of Mr Maroon's pub darts team). However, they usually kept the Canting Crew firmly at a distance from the main gate. Even for beggars more unhinged than a B.S. Johnson doorway, the Crew knew better than to push its luck at this set of gates, and fifty or so copies of the Times and the agreed payment for such were exchanged at arms' length. The Assassins' Guild did not officially take the Ankh-Morpork Inquirer, as this was regarded as too proletarian and down-market. However, Mr Stippler and Mr Maroon knew their employers. Later in the morning, young Maroon the post-boy and general portering apprentice would be sent out to Fenders', the tobacconist/newsagents on Broadway, to pick up ten copies. Thus, the Porters' Lodge would be prepared when one of the teaching assistants would be sent down, at the bequest of senior teachers who would not be seen inhumed buying a copy of the Inquirer, came down to diffidently ask if the porters had a spare copy or two for the staffroom. As the delegated dogsbody had usually been primed with fifty pence or so to pay for the papers and put a bit of change in the Porters' Benevolent Fund, this arrangement suited everyone. (1)

Young Maroon, a pleasant youth of fourteen or so, was officially The Boy, learning the job for when it would be his turn to don the bowler hat of office as a fully-fledged Guild Porter, like his father. On this particular morning, he was diligently sorting and bundling the mail according to recipient, remembering to add a copy of the Times to each bundle.

General mail to specifically named graduate Assassins and teachers without House duties goes into the correct pigeon-hole, for them to personally collect. Mail and parcels for school students goes into the appropriate House box and is to be delivered to the Housemaster or Mistress for distribution in-house. In theory the Master, the Registry, the Bursary and the Dark Council should be delivered first, as a priority.

In practice, Young Maroon knew, Raven House got its mail first, as Miss Smith-Rhodes and Miss N'Kweze knew to save him their Howondalandian stamps. Madame Deux-Epées had cottoned onto this and knew to save him Quirmian stamps, as did Doktor von Graumunchen, although Überwaldean stamps were drab and not normally as collectable as the big gaudy exciting Howondalandian ones. The Master and the Dark council normally got in around fourth or fifth. Young Maroon had not yet been able to pluck up courage to ask Lord Downey if the stamps could be saved for him. Even though the Master and the Council received letters from literally all over the Discworld.

He felt privileged. His job didn't pay much, but his side business in dealing in the sort of stamps Ankh-Morpork didn't see many of – he remembered Miss Pretty Butterfly was kind enough to give him her Agatean stamps when he asked - was thriving. Duplicates and inferior quality stamps he sold on through Dave's Stamp and Pin Exchange, and this in a good week brought him almost as much as his wages from the Guild.

He diligently carried on loading the mail trolley, only pausing occasionally to check a name against the House rolls. Most parents knew to put the House their child belonged to underneath the name. He glanced down without interest at the front page of the Times. Some sort of press release from the High Priests with commentary by the paper's Religious Affairs Correspondent...

Unprecedented joint statement from the High Priests of Blind Io and Offler!

Reproduced below with commentary from our Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Rev. Norman Lamister.

On other Pages: Bioartificing. A miracle or a hidden curse? It is rumoured that several recipients have received Igor-created new eyes. "Strictly no comment" by Dr Lawn at the Lady Sybil. Guild of Assassins unable to comment on the rumour an Assassin was recipient... our Medical Correspondent reports.

From the Council of Churches, Temples, Sacred Groves and Big Ominous Rocks.

After prayerful consideration and consultation, it is our sacred duty, as the Discly intermediaries for the Great Gods Offler and Blind Io, to communicate the following Divine Revelation to the peoples of the Disc, for their information and enlightenment.

The Great God Blind Io has made His intentions clear on the practice of bio-artificing of all physical parts that constitute the human eyeball, and by inference the visual sensatory apparatus of all sentient beings.

The God has signalled His acceptance of and blessing on the practice of the creation of new eyes for those unfortunate enough to be either born blind or to lose their sight through misadventure.

The Great God has advised us to make it abundantly clear that through His intermediaries on Disc, the Clan of the Igors, He has bequeathed the Miracle of Understanding which has enabled Igordom to make this advance on behalf of the entire human race.

The bio-artificing and renewal of eyes is therefore to be classed as a Miracle bestowed by Io, and The Lord Io, Blessèd Be His Name, has henceforth decreed that any recipient of new eyes should attend upon a Temple of Io and receive formal Blessing upon their new Eyes, lest they be taken away again. (For the god has saith, That Which I Freely Give I May Also Freely Take Away Again.) This Service of Blessing will also carry the expectation of a small financial Tithe unto the Temple of Om, in recognition of the God's mercy and charity.

The Great God Offler has also communicated unto His servant on Disc that, similarly, the bio-artificing of Teeth shall also be seen as a Boon and a Blessing bestowed upon the faithful by the Lord Offler. The Faithful, being in receipt of new Teeth, shall attend upon a Temple of Offler to give thanks, receive Blessing, and offer Sacrifice in the form of a small affordable financial Tithe.

Supplements to the Order of Service and reccomended price-lists will be despatched to all Temples of Om and Offler within the next few days.

Postscript: In response to an urgent inquiry from Ms. Estressa Partleigh of the Campaign for Equal Heights, we are at pains to reassure her that Dwarfs – and indeed Trolls and other sentient species – are of course included in this divine beneficence. Their spiritual arrangements are outside of our purview, and other races/species are politely and fraternally advised to seek guidance on this matter from their own priests, Grags, Alogroohaha, Shaman, Druid, or other intermediary with the species-appropriate Divine. If uncertain, the Council of Churches, Temples, Sacred Groves and Big Ominous Rocks will be pleased to point seekers after truth to the appropriate Temple.

Asked to comment, a spokes-Igor at the Lady Sybil Free Hospital has informed the Times that "frankly, thith ith a load of utter cobllerth!" and accuthed the Churches of seeking to jump on the bandwagon and cash in on the Igors' research and innovation. Our intrepid reporter stood back hurriedly as a thunderbolt hit the spokes-Igor, but earthed harmlessly due to the built-in lightning conductor all Igors have self-installed. "Well, I don't call that much of an argument!" said the spokes-Igor, patting out a small fire in his clothing before lurching off, otherwise undamaged but smelling of smoke and charred hair.

Thought for the Day, delivered by our Religious Affairs Correspondent, the Reverend Norman Lamister of Small Gods.

Good morning. I am reminded of what my dear departed grandmother once said on the topic of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"...

Emannuelle-Marie Lapoignard les Deux-Epées put her copy of the Times down and exhaled, relieved that she was off the hook on this one. She smiled, and reflected that just to clear both of them, she had better get the girl down to Canon Clement so he could perform this blessing. You never knew, after all.

Young Maroon had been very commendably quick with the papers and the post that morning. She had been able to get through the morning post quickly, and read the interesting parts of the Times. She very soon had to go down to Breakfast, after which her first lesson was an intermediate class in Swords down in the arena. She frowned. Catherine Perry-Bowen was a part of that class. Some interestingly disturbing things had been emerging in Catherine's sword classes. Never really ranked much above Average – her skills, Emmanuelle suspected, laid elsewhere - Catherine had been developing not just an increased degree of competency, but something more than that. And in such a remarkably short space of time, too.

To fill the time before the Breakfast bell, Emmanuelle performed a few stretching and warm-up exercises. She was dressed as normal for a Swords class, in soft comfortable pumps, loose baggy harem-trousers, and a close tight-fitting sleeveless top. In deference to diplomatically-phrased requests, and the undeniable fact it was getting cold outside, she would pull a shapeless baggy top on before venturing out. That she was alone was just as well; in the tight-fitting top in an underheated room, the sort of bending and stretching exercises she did were capable of making older Assassins neglect their breakfast, and younger ones to contemplate the beneficial properties of a cold shower.

Breakfast, taken communally in the Great Hall, doubled as Morning Assembly. Canon Clement would read a Grace, and Lord Downey, or in his absence another Very Senior Assassin, would read out any routine notices, exhortations, or veiled threats, as befitted the Master. It was normal for House teachers to sit with their pupils, and insofar as she could, Emmanuelle tried to make mealtimes a pleasant, informal, and relaxed time for everyone. She was a Quirmian, after all: and Quirmian custom was that mealtimes were relaxed family times. And the girls of Black Widow House were her extended family.

This was pretty much like any other breakfast assembly. The Canon read Grace, meticulously thanking all Gods with an interest in the provision of breakfast to the Guild. This was necessarily inclusive of a dozen deities, including Cephut, God of Cutlery and Plateware, for His munificent provision of utensils to eat off and with; and to Anoia, Goddess Of Unsticking Things That Get Stuck in Drawers, for ensuring the kitchen staff had trouble-free operation of all storage spaces.

Lord Downey read several routine notices. He delivered thanks for the sterling achievement of the School's Llamedosian Rules Foot-The-Ball Team, noting the senior squad had defeated Ankh-Morpork Hergenians 21-18 by two tries, two conversions, three penalties, and some impressive gouging in the scrums. He also noted, with pride, the impressive progress of the edificeering squad and hoped this would deliver victory over the other competing teams in what was now the Boggis-Downey-Vimes trophy, in an expanded championship encompassing no less than six city edificeering squads. He noted the Post Office Team would be a tough match, as would the ladies and gentlemen of the Extreme Sports Society, as well as our traditional opposition from the Thieves' Guild School. He also counselled that the rank outsiders of the City Watch team should not be discounted, as he was sure Commander Vimes would not have entered a side if he could only hope to come last.

"But, however." At this point the Master's tone changed and he put on a sterner visage. Emmanuelle sighed. Along with her pupils, she recognised the classic signs of a headmaster who was about to express discontent at some perceived fall from grace on the part of the pupils. It was all part of headmasters' boffo, after all, and an expected part of the morning performance. Whatever it was, it was likely to mean extra work for his teaching and pastoral staff.

"We have been monitoring the student body closely over the past few weeks. I am not happy with one unwelcome trend that has been noted, and indeed several pupils have already been despatched to me for the traditional chat over a sherry and an almond slice." he continued, pausing to let the implications sink in. "Now I am aware you are all normal and relatively well-adjusted young people. You would indeed not be normal young people if you did not form friendships and attachments with pupils of the opposite sex. I pride myself in that we are liberal and relaxed enough to permit you to mix in classrooms, to share the approved communal space, and to be allowed out into the City in well-behaved mixed groups. This is, after all, all part of the normal process of growing up. But what we as your pastoral guides, who stand in loco parentis to you, cannot permit, is for these attachments to become deep and, er, romantic, affairs. We have your parents to answer to, and we are responsible to them for the way we look after you.(3) I do not want to see your schoolwork suffering and your studies as Assassins neglected, because adolescent infatuations are allowed to take priority."

He paused again and surveyed the School.

"You are all respectfully reminded that it is a breach of School rules for a student of one sex to enter the dormitory facilities, or indeed the House of Study, of students of the opposite sex. It is also a gross breach of school rules to leave your House after curfew, except in case of grave emergency. It is also a punishable breach of School rules to leave your dormitory at night with the intention of pursuing a romantic liaison. Breaches of these rules will be detected and will attract severe sanction. House tutors in particular are requested to be extra-vigilant. Security patrols, and the porters' lodge, have also been instructed to be vigilant and to detain anyone caught outside the buildings after dark with no extenuating reason. That is all, and I trust common sense will guide your footsteps. Thank you, and may your School day be a rewarding one."

Emmanuelle sighed. She looked over to the Tump House table and shared a knowing look with Miss Alice Band. It said So we're expected to be moral police again. More work.

Catherine Perry-Bowen got changed for her Swords class. In a funny sort of a way, she was actually looking forward to two hours of high-impact physical activity. Madame Two-Swords was a good instructor, who, against all the usual expectations of any physical education teacher, was never sarcastic, did not play favourites, was positive and encouraging, and who only betrayed impatience or annoyance if a pupil was being physically lazy or unduly holding back. She expected a lot, but she also gave a lot. This would be a single-sex class. Which was for the good, as there was nobody to get distracted by. But, Catherine reflected, girls could be a lot more inventively nasty and creatively unpleasant to each other than the boys could ever dream of. And speaking of which...

Deborah Rust looked over from her end of the changing room and gave Catherine a nasty smile. She said something to her particular cronies in a low voice, and they sniggered. Catherine felt her fists itch. A little part of her hindbrain whispered that sooner or later they'd be in Miss Smith-Rhodes' advanced class in Unorthodox Combat Techniques, where Deborah would not have a sword in her hand and would be at a disadvantage. Like all Rusts, Deborah sneered at gutter-fighting and lower-class fisticuffs, considering them to be beneath her. As this was a good 60% of what Miss Smith-Rhodes taught in her class, Catherine quite looked forward to evening the score for past humiliations. She paused and frowned. A few months ago she would not have thought like that. Was it Taking Black that had hardened her? She shrugged, and adjusted the set of her protective face-mask. This would be needed: they were learning to duel with real swords. With real blades. She looked at Deborah again, the source of many previous humiliations in the swordfighting arena. Deborah was good with swords, and she knew it. She used her talent to bully and browbeat and humiliate, and Catherine had long been a favourite target.

Today, Catherine thought, things are going to be different. Bring it on. And then a Quirmian phrase popped into her head from nowhere. A l'outrance!

She looked across at Deborah and returned her smirk with a steady glare. She was pleased that just for a moment, Deborah's eyes expressed uncertainty. And she looked away first.

And then they were walking out into the arena, where Madame Two-Swords greeted them. Again, Catherine wondered why her teacher, normally attuned to her pupils, sympathetic and sensible, appeared to turn a near-complete blind eye to Deborah Rust's bullying and inflicted humiliations. It appeared to be the only blind spot in a teacher otherwise respected and held in high regard by her pupils. Catherine shrugged. The Rusts had power and influence in the City. If that extended to their teachers being wary of confrontation, then not even Madame Two-Swords would be immune to that. (4)

"Bonjour, mes amies!" Emmanelle called, cheerfully. "Today your skills training will advance to a new level. The swords which I will now issue are called Rapaelli sabres. Each of you will be pleased to take one, and you will listen attentively as I describe the sabre and the uses to which it may be put."

Catherine took one of the issue practice swords and tested its edge experimentally. These have a blade. This is dulled for practice, and dulled by use, but it will still cut. It will hurt, even over leather armour and headguard. Look at Deborah. She intends to deliver hurt.

"Why Rapaelli, madame?" somebody inquired.

"That is the name of the master swordsmith in Brindisi who makes these weapons." her tutor replied. "As lessons persist and you become practiced enough in recognising a good sword, when the time is right for you to select your own bespoke weapons which are most suited for you, I will guide you through the work of the Disc's best swordsmiths and weapons foundries. Such a choice is not to be taken lightly and cannot be rushed. The Disc's best swordsmiths include my own father in Quirm. I will introduce you later to his weapons."

She held up a hand and smiled objectively. "I promise you on my Assassin's honour I will be objective. I will not unduly recommend my own father's swords. I am independently wealthy, and have no need to receive a commission for every weapon sold. So is my father, on his own merits as a crafter of blades. He has no reason for me to shill his goods."

This provoked an appreciative laugh.

Deborah Rust looked at her weapon critically.

"Madame, this weapon is ideally suited for thrusting." she observed. "But there is no point to the blade. It appears to terminate in a blunt, rounded, button device?"

She looked critically at Emmanuelle, as if wanting to ask why she had been issued a manifestly inferior piece of equipment. Emmanuelle returned a long cool look.

"Very well observed, Miss Rust." she said, coldly. "The weapon is indeed designed for thrusting. Had I been so incautious as to issue you a true sabre, fully sharpened of blade and with the active point, a lunge with the full weight of your body behind it would penetrate both the leather armour you wear for protection and go straight through the body underneath. With enough killing force, it is likely to emerge from the other side. I can see that prospect pleases you? Let me assure you that the purpose of this class is that we all learn and remain alive afterwards. It is not to leave a trail of bodies and to create more work for the cleaning staff in mopping up the blood. Dead people do not remember lessons. Therefore the armourer here has modified the points of these swords into blunt buttons. These will sting when they hit but will not penetrate. Therefore you will all learn lessons. Now let us pair off and we will go through some drills. Two lines! Facing each other! Avant! En garde!"

For the first hour, Catherine drilled with her friend Chaka N'Golante, gaining familiarity and speed with the new weapon. She was aware that both Deborah Rust and Madame Two-Swords were covertly watching her. But sword classes, which had hitherto been a bit of an embarrassment to her, or at best an uncomfortable experience where she felt she didn't quite fit, were suddenly becoming right: it was as if all the drills and routines that she'd painstakingly had to learn over the years were suddenly coming together. Like learning an unfamiliar language or the rudiments of a new musical instrument, it was all coalescing. It was suddenly making sense to her. Her body flowed; the rote-learning, what Madame Two-Swords called bodily memory, was taking over and something new was emerging: a Catherine who was suddenly aware that a sword wasn't just two feet of heavy cumbersome ironwork. She suddenly understood. And she whooped with the exultation of it.

Chakkie, normally a far better swordswoman (although she still preferred spears and clubs, as befitted her Zulu heritage), found herself being beaten back and on the defensive. This was new for her too. It was uncomfortable for her to realise that had this been a swordfight for real, she had been killed four or five times over.

Madame Two Swords called a break after an hour and said she was very, very pleased with everyone's progress. "We will resume", she said, smiling, "with a little game, mes enfants. Are you familiar with the concept of the melée? Oui? Well, we shall have a melée. You will engage in a free-for-all mock combat. I will adjudicate and judge when somebody is killed or incapacitated. That person then withdraws from combat and stands against the far wall. She will take no further part. The last person standing will be judged the winner. There is no prize except the satisfaction of knowing, at that moment and only that moment, you are the best swordswoman in this class. Are we all ready? Eh bien. En garde! Commence!"

The next half-hour was a blur of movement and mock combat. Catherine found herself anticipating and dealing with attacks from all sides. She found it all surprisingly invigorating and easy. Focusing for the moment on defending herself while the more indifferent swords were weeded out, and saving her strength and stamina for the demanding fights to come, she watched attentively as she moved, noting with distaste that Deborah Rust was deliberately targeting the weaker performers so as to gather easy scalps. She wasn't gentle, using the thrust of the sabre to punish and bruise, deliberately targeting arms, necks and upper legs that were not protected by armour or faceguard. Deborah was also insuring herself from side attacks by ensuring her two cronies flanked her, fighting to her left and right as a group, despite the rules of the game, one of the few rules of the melée being that there was no such thing as team fighting – it should be every woman for herself. Again she wondered why Madame Two-Swords di not intervene; one of the girls forced out of the game by Deborah and her minders looked to her teacher in protest, but Madame had a stony, almost unreadable, Look on her face that seemed to suggest there was a point being made, that any half-intelligent girl should be able to work out for herself.

As more and more girls adjudicated to be killed or wounded were motioned to drop out and stand by the wall, Catherine counted seven people still in the game. Herself, Chakkie, Deborah and her two cronies, and two others. Deborah looked over to her. Even behind her face-mask, Catherine sensed a delighted predatory smile.

The three moved towards Catherine and Chakkie, eliminating one of the other two on the way. Chakkie was exchanging cuts with the other, but ended her battle quickly, sensing the greater threat. Now there were only five.

This is where it ends, Catherine thought, leaping forward and tackling Deborah's right-hand minder. She glimpsed Chakkie taking out the one on the left side. It was over quickly as Madame Deux-Epées called them out of the battle. Just well-bred thugs, Cvatherine thought. No finesse. No style. Now it was Chakkie against Deborah, the Howondalandian girl waving Catherine away: this would be a fair fight. The sabres clashed again and again. But the worst happened; Chakkie slipped and fell, exposing herself. Deborah deliberately swung the flat of her blade against Chakkie's head, half-stunning her. Catherine turned to Madame Deux-Epées, her whole body wordlessly screaming You must have seen that!

But now it was Catherine against Deborah. She fought down her rage and indignation and began really fighting, in a cold anger and directed violence. A sudden impulse made her rip off her face-guard and throw it down.

"Now aim for my head, Deborah. If you dare." she said, in cold contempt.

They circled, warily watching each other. Catherine sensed the older girl was breathing heavily. She wasn't even winded; she'd conserved her stamina. She was dimly aware of a roomful of students who were silently cheering her on. But she was watching to see which way Deborah Rust would leap, attuned to even the tiniest of giveaway muscle movements. She watched.

She's going to move to my left. To attack what she sees is my unguarded side. Let her see me unguarded. For just long enough...

There was a leaping movement and a clash of sabres. Catherine sensed movement, braced herself, and countered...

Sabres clashed again. And again. And again.

Catherine smiled. Deborah was now frantically wasting her strength and stamina and nothing was getting through. She, Catherine, would attack soon. But not yet. Let her waste her strength. Was that a tremor in her sword arm?

And then Deborah stumbled slightly. Catherine saw her opening. She also wasn't inclined to be merciful. And from then on it was a one-sided contest. Blows, cuts and thrusts landed in quick succession as Deborah was forced backwards across the arena, until her back was against the wall and she could run no more.

"Do you yield, Deborah?" Catherine said, as she landed another painful thrust. She saw no reason to be merciful. "Do you submit? Come on, you can end this now with three little words. (prod) In Quirmian. (thrust) Should I remind you? (slash). I'm not going to mark your face or go for the head. (thrust) Because unlike you I'm not an evil-minded sadistic bitch! (thrust) All you need to do (hack) is to say to me. In Quirmian. Repeat after me. Je. (thrust) Me. (thrust) Rends.(hack)."

Deborah's sword arm had dropped but she was still holding the sabre and she hadn't yielded. Good. That made her punishment at Catherine's hands completely legal. Catherine was in the quiet place beyond rage and anger now. She was aware Chakkie was on her feet now and facing down Deborah's cronies, who were contemplating intervention. Then there was an unfamilar burbling snotty noise.

She's crying. She'll be wetting herself next. Good. Now she knows what it feels like.

As Catherine raised her sword arm for another blow, there was the noise of a sword being dropped. But no declaration of surrender. Catherine was angry. She raised her sword-arm for a punishing blow...

A blur of steel passed between them, causing her to step back.

"Assez!" shouted Madame Two-Swords, stepping between them. "Je t'ai dit! Assez! That is ENOUGH!"

The class cheered. Deborah Rust, the swords-class bully, had been defeated and humiliated.

"Put down your sword. Bon. Go and join the class." Madame Two-Swords said, curtly.

"Deborah. Compose yourself. If you recall, I did warn you something like this would happen. And assuredly, a better swordswoman did emerge, and she displayed to you the same mercy you showed to others. Learn from this."

Emmanuelle took a deep breath. Dressed as she was, had this been a male class, this would have caused discomfort among young male assassins who would all have contemplated the soothing benefits of a cold shower. (5)

"Listen to me." she said, in a quiet severe voice. "I was at all times fully aware of Miss Rust's conduct and behaviour in these classes. I only intervened when it became too outrageous and indefensible. You may think I otherwise stood back and did nothing to remedy the situation."

She paused.

"And you would have been correct. Ecoutez. You are training to be Assassins. People who inhume other people in return for money. This is not a convent school. You are not in training to become nuns or contemplatives. The world out there is cruel and unequal and full of distasteful people, who will not hesitate to bully or browbeat or unjustly use superior force. Ma foi, I could have intervened to restrain Miss Rust and curb her excesses. But what message would that have sent out? That you are weak and inadequate persons who cannot act to remedy a bad situation for yourselves without recourse to authority or depending on me to put things right for you? This is not the Assassin way! I hoped and expected you would realise this for yourselves, and informally deal with a bully. In which case I would have looked in the other direction, and allowed you to do what was needful to restore balance and harmony.

"This has now been done and the balance is restored. Shortly I will dismiss the class and escort Miss Rust to Matron Igorina. I do not believe any bones have been broken, but she will carry many bruises as well as a deserved sense of humiliation. I will also privately speak to her Housemistress, Miss Smith-Rhodes. But now. It is over. It is dealt with. Let there be an end to it! Class is dismissed. Miss Perry-Bowen, you will see me in my office after school. That is all."

Emmanuelle was worried. Seeing Catherine's sudden competence in swords had been like looking at a younger version of herself.

Those accursed eyes, she thought. I once joked it would make her a far better swordswoman. How right I was! She dealt with that situation mercilessly and without hesitation. Just I would have done to a bully. My swords teacher described me as having "the Eye of the Tiger" for fighting. I watched Catherine really fight today, and saw the Eye of the Tiger in her. Only a select few fighters have that. Little glory, but she has the guts and the will to survive. She will perhaps make a famous Name as an Assassin.

She sighed. Her post-school meeting with Catherine had been short and sweet. Emmanuelle had counselled that she use her new-found ability with swords with humility and grace. "In future swords lessons, cherie, I may well use you as a teaching assistant to the limits of your skills. I do not believe you will become as arrogant and unfeeling as Deborah. You are not a Rust, after all, and you lack that noble family's fine breeding. I wish that you do this thing for the correct reasons and in a way that is beneficial to all."

Emmanuelle smiled. Office conversations with Catherine Perry-Bowen were getting to be regular these days.

"I have asked for you to be released from your eleven o'clock lesson tomorrow. I am covering a mathematics class for Mr Mycroft, who is absent. I wish you to be present, as I require a classroom assistant. You may also learn a little useful something yourself, and it will serve to keep you out of trouble. That is all."

Catherine left, with relief.

(1) The foreign newspapers and magazines arrived seperately, between a day and a week out of date depending on the mail coaches and distance travelled. The SudÜberwaldeanZeitung for Herr von Ubersetzer and Mr von Graumunchen, the Pseudopolis Herald, the Sto Plains Dealer, and illustrated magazines such as the Quirm-Match (2)were also widely read by Guild teachers.

(2) Mr Stippler did not speak Quirmian, but he still leafed through the Quirm-Match for its full and unparelleled iconographic coverage of Quirmian actresses and celebrities explaining that if nudity was necessary in the script, then, zut alors, I must respect artistic integrity and go unclad. This point of artistic merit was generally copiously illustrated. The publisher of Quirm-Match was listed as a Monsieur Celui-Me-Trancherai-Ma-Propre-Gorge Planteur.

(3) Everybody, from House tutors down, knew the code. The words expressly left unsaid were I do not want to receive complaints from fee-paying parents who are concerned that their daughters are being allowed too many freedoms. Losing fee revenue is a grievous matter.

(4 )Actually, Catherine was doing Emmanuelle an injustice here. Madame Deux-Epées was all too aware of Deborah Rust's incivility and the use of her superior skill to hurt and belittle her classmates. After one especially egregious class in which she had stepped in to prevent Deborah going a little too far, she had privately spoken to Miss Rust. "You are fortunate in that you are a better swordswoman at fifteen than your peers. You might wish to think of using your talent productively, to help and to nurture and to encourage your peers who are not as advanced as you? No? Then let me suggest, ma chère enfant terrible, that what goes around comes around. One day you will encounter a swordswoman who is better than you. Whose skills outstrip yours. Who will then show you exactly the same degree of respect and consideration you display to others. I put it to you that when this day arrives, it will not be pleasant for you and you will learn one of life's lessons the hard way. It is up to you, cherie. I will only intervene with the most extreme reluctance at this stage in your training. Everyone else has to learn a lesson too, and some lessons may not be taught. They may only be learned. That is all. Go away and reflect. Emmanuelle would, in one respect, be gratified when this day arrived.

(5) Although one or two of the girls, who could have benefited from a quiet informal pastoral word with Miss Alice Band, were biting their lips and trying not to make their reaction too obvious. The Assassins' School frowned on this sort of thing even more severely than normal heterosexual adolescent displays.

Yes. You guessed it. Cheesey, isn't it...

Risin' up back on the street
Did my time, took my chances
Went the distance now I'm back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive
So many times, it happens too fast
You trade your passion for glory
Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive

It's the Eye of the Tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he's watching us all
With the Eye of the Tiger

Face to face, out in the heat
Hangin' tough, stayin' hungry
They stack the odds till' we take to the street
For we kill with the skill to survive

(Repeat Chorus)

Risin' up straight to the top
Had the guts, got the glory
Went the distance, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive

It's the Eye of the Tiger
It's the thrill of the fight
Rising up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor
Stalks his prey in the night
And he's watching us all
With the Eye of the Tiger

The Eye of the Tiger
The Eye of the Tiger
The Eye of the Tiger
The Eye of the Tiger