“The Academy of the Secret and Arcane Arts of Politics and Espionage is, let us be honest, not the most famous school within Doran, but I can say that it is most certainly the best!” Cheers and whistles rose as the Headmaster began his year end speech. “As I looked over your records and the comments of your teachers and tutors, as I watched you all struggle and overcome the obstacles in your path, I became, once again, full of hope for the future of the Assassin’s Guild.” More clapping. “However,” here, Felix Amarost looked serious and the crowd of students and teachers quieted, “the road does not end here, as you all know. There are the years ahead of us to face. There are challenges yet to rise before us. There is work still to be done. As you return to your homes for this summer, you all will enjoy a well-deserved rest. Including the staff.  Yet, there are also ways that we can prepare for the coming year. Listen well to the advice of your teachers, and may we meet again at the start of the new school year. To the Guild!”
“To the Guild!” Everyone shouted.
The great oak doors of the assembly hall swept open. Students and teachers rose from their seats in a resounding clamour as they made their way out to the main atrium. Already, carriages on the school’s long drive waited to be filled, but unlike other schools around Doran, the Assassin’s Academy students were not as eager to leave. Friends gave each other last minute hugs, exchanged summer plans, promised to write, and some even cried a little.
After the Dismissal Assembly for Returning Students, Emalynn found it well-nigh impossible to beat a path to her sister who had, as usual, let herself get swept away in a flood of students. Following Katrynn’s dark head outside, Emalynn found a small space to breathe as well as an opportunity to catch her sister’s eye. Once rejoined, the two girls stood by the great doors and looked across the packed lane. Private carriages were coming first to pick up the in-town students. There weren’t that many in-town students, but what with the horses and all, the lane got filled quite quickly.
“I can’t see Father’s carriage yet,” Katrynn said with satisfaction. “I – oh! There they are! Brittainy! Chrystyna!”
In a few seconds, the two other girls joined the Romayans. Although Brittainy looked cheerful, like many students, the usually spastic girl was quiet. The Romayan girls could not help but think it was due to the fact that Brittainy was wearing a very pink, very flowery-looking dress. No doubt Brittainy was already dreading her reunion with Society. On the other hand, Chrystyna looked downright gloomy, wearing her plainest black dress complete with navy pinafore. She could have easily fit in with a funeral procession.
“We were just talking about the Headmaster,” Brittainy’s blue eyes glittered with admiration and a slight touch of awe.
“Headmaster Amarost?” asked Emalynn. “I suppose you have met him the most out of the four of us.”
“I’ve met him as well,” Chrystyna added quickly.
“That is not always considered a good thing,” Emalynn rolled her eyes.
“Well, he is very mysterious,” Katrynn said dreamily. “Beneath his posh exterior, lies a dark heart and a ruthless nature.”
“Katrynn,” Emalynn sighed. “Who told you that?”
“Toria did,” Katrynn admitted. “She said that the Headmaster is a very mysterious man. Like a Gothic hero.”
“Hardly-“ Emalynn began.
“Mysterious and powerful,” Chrystyna interjected solemnly. “You never know what he’s thinking.”
“And he sees everything,” Brittainy added.
“You two need to…” Emalynn stopped and shook her head. “Never mind.”
“You don’t like our Headmaster?” Chrystyna asked in shock.
“No!” Emalynn sighed. “I do respect him and like him – but he’s not omniscient or omnipresent. I bet he gets tired of work like we do. I bet he likes summer holidays just as much as we do. He’s human. Just like us.”
“You clearly have not met him,” Brittainy shook her head. “He’s something else when you meet him one on one. Even if he does give you chocolate. I hope he doesn’t talk to my dad. He’ll probably turn my dad into a homework automaton. ”
“What does chocolate have to do with it? How would he turn your father into a homework automaton? What is a homework-” Emalynn asked and then abruptly stopped. “No. Don’t answer that, thanks.” She noticed a familiar letter in Chrystyna’s hands. “Is that your grade report? You finally got it?”
Everyone in their class had gotten their grades the day before – except Chrystyna, which had worried Brittainy and the Romayans. Although Emalynn and Katrynn did not spare every minute to socialize with Chrystyna, they often shared tables during study hall and mealtimes. On occasions, when assignments threatened to overwhelm the four girls, they met in Chrystyna’s tower to study in peace. As a result, although the four girls would not define themselves as the best of friends, they considered each other close comrades.
They had, after all, survived a group assignment together.
“I had to go pick it up at the office and talk to a counsellor about it this morning,” the tall girl said, offering the paper to Emalynn. “As you can see, my grades are ab… ab… ab-something.”
“Abysmal,” Emalynn let Katrynn pluck the paper from her hands. “You can’t come back?”
“Oh no,” Katrynn looked sad. “We will miss you if you don’t!”
“I’m coming back,” Chrystyna hastened to assure the Romayans. “I know I didn’t get high marks like you two did, but I can still come back.”
“It’s the group assignment,” Brittainy explained. “Chrystyna got a high mark from Master Geoffrey for innovation and… hard work. Besides, her marks in class are bad, but she didn’t exactly fail.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” Emalynn smiled. “The group assignment helped us all in more ways than one.”
“It was the best thing we did this year,” agreed Katrynn. “I loved how we discovered a conspiracy!!!”
“A conspiracy is a plan made by a group of people,” Emalynn corrected her sister. “Lady Matilde plotting to help her son rise within the ranks of the Textile Guild hardly counts as a conspiracy.”
“Poor Peter Tynne – to discover his secret mother was secretly plotting to kill her secretly drug-smuggling husband.” Brittainy looked thoughtful. “Now she’ll be confined to the Capital for life.”
“That’s hardly severe for punishment,” Emalynn frowned. “She manipulated – tried to manipulate – the Assassin’s Guild into doing her dirty work for her.”
“A very smart Lady,” Chrystyna said admiringly. “Even though we put all the clues together, even though we knew what we knew… I remember when Master Shermore came and told us the news. You guys remember, right? Our suspicions were proved correct – and even then, I couldn’t believe it really.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” Brittainy voice dropped. “I was surprised that the Guild went ahead and removed Lord Sadon. I wonder how they… removed him.” The young girl whispered removed with tones of faint shock and excitement.
“We’ve gone over this before,” Emalynn said. “We’re not fighting about this topic again. We made a promise.”
“Right, right,” Brittainy sighed, remembering how Emalynn and Chrystyna hadn’t talked to each other for a whole day.
“Now Taryth Sadon is Lord Taryth Sadon. Peter Tynne is Guildmaster Peter Tynne of the Textile Guild. We are Accomplished Apprentices.”
“With awards!” Brittainy waved hers. “Even Emalynn looked shocked when her name was called.”
“Well,” Emalynn had to admit. “Group assignments are not my forte. I thought we did well – but not that well.”
“How did you feel when the Headmaster shook your hand and gave you your award?” Chrystyna asked.
Emalynn gave the taller girl a look. “Happy. Proud. Normal.”
“My hand tingled,” Chrystyna said in awe.
“Um,” Emalynn said.
“So… it ended well for everyone. Except Lord Sadon.” Brittainy interjected, knowing that Emalynn and Chrystyna could argue for hours if they wanted to. “The assignment ended well for us – and Chrystyna will stay another year… and we’ll all see each other in a couple months,” Brittainy said cheerfully. “We’re going to go travelling in the south next month. Of course, Cousin Alex will tag along and be a nuisance, but I think I can beat her up now. Maybe.”
“You could do with some work on your grammar and writing over the summer,” Emalynn pointed out.
“Maybe,” Brittainy shrugged. “I like the fact that we don’t have to do summer homework. Finishing schools always give you a wagonload of homework for the holidays.”
“A wagonload?” asked Chrystyna in horror.
“That’s an exaggeration,” Katrynn told Chrystyna kindly.
“Not really,” Brittainy said stubbornly, “but the Academy here is so much better.”
“They weren’t thinking of you when they made that rule, you know,” Emalynn said. “It’s for security.”
“Yeah. Mistress Stonecroft talked about it for half an hour,” Chrystyna nodded. “I took notes. Also, no talking about the Academy. No talking about what we learned at the Academy. No talking about who works at the Academy. No talking about who attends the Academy. You have to button up your lips, as my mother would say.”
“Your mother says strange things,” Katrynn noted. “But they are true,” she added hastily.
“What will you do this summer?” asked Chrystyna.
“Training,” the girls chimed together.
“Mother is also insisting we get some rest as well.” Emalynn said. “Perhaps we’ll go south as well to visit the beach and swim in the ocean.”
“We can read a whole bunch of books this summer about assassin tactics and strategy as well,” Katrynn’s eyes gleamed.
“You’re lucky to have an assassin family,” sighed Chrystyna. “I will be stuck in the woods in a hot farmhouse doing housework and farm work. Grey Crags is boring.”
“I’m sure you’ll find a chance to do more physical training,” Brittainy comforted her friend. “Remember to follow the exercise outline I gave you.”
“Grey Crags has trees, right?” Emalynn added. “Climb those. You can always do with more practice in climbing… and handling heights.”
“Or climb the mountains nearby!” Katrynn’s hand waved upward dramatically. “To the top, you will go and look down-“
“Katrynn,” Emalynn said indulgently. “She’s not climbing to the top of Eldalind’s mountains.”
“If she had some krampons and rope-“
“Even if she had krampons and rope-“
“Father!” Katrynn, forgetting her argument immediately, jumped up and down and began to make her way down to the familiar waiting carriage upon which their father sat.
“We have to go,” Emalynn smiled apologetically at the other two. “Sorry about Katrynn. See you next year!”
“See you!” Brittainy waved.
“Goodbye!” Chrystyna replied mournfully with her own small wave.
They watched Emalynn join her sister, get into the carriage, and drive off. As the carriage rolled away, they could hear Katrynn telling their father that Chrystyna was going to climb mountains during her holiday; Emalynn correcting her sister and reminding her of the school’s summer rules; and the beginning of a long Romayan argument.
Brittainy and Chrystyna, glancing at each other, laughed.
Watching the last of the private students climb into their waiting carriages, the teaching staff of the Assassin’s Academy smiled even more broadly. At the sight of the Brython crest finally rumbling away down the lane, carrying off Brittainy Brython, a smattering of clapping arose. Master Francis O’Shore laughed as someone (probably Master Talmin Ahmeen) mumbled, “Thank the Seven!”
“I thought she’d never go,” agreed someone else. “The year is officially over.”
Now the Academy hired carriages began to take on the students who traveled further to reach home. These students would take long-distance carriages or trains to their various provinces. As he watched the last group trickle down the steps to the last stagecoach, the Headmaster Felix allowed himself to sag a little against the great posts of the Academy’s front doors.
“There they go, Felix,” Francis said, remaining at his side as the rest of the staff wandered back indoors. “In a few months they’ll be back.”
“Don’t remind me,” Felix groaned. “We have quite a bit to do, if we are to prepare for the next batch.”
“Our work is never done.”
“No, Francis, it is never done,” the Headmaster agreed. “However, there are days… there are days when it feels like it is worth all the effort and pain and headaches and meetings and complaints.”
“You are thinking of the Accomplished Apprentices,” guessed Francis.
“Not just them,” Felix loosened his cravat, unbuttoned the top two buttons of his starched white shirt, and shoved his hands into his pocket. “Everyone. Next year, I think, will be the same. Just as successful.”
A small moment of celebration, he told himself. A well-deserved chance to relax. It’s been, well, two years since I first began as a Headmaster. My only term as Headmaster if I have any say about it. Three more years and I will be able to return to the field. Until then, I must discharge my duty well – and appreciate the successes when they happen.
“You are an optimistic man, Felix,” Francis grinned. “I’m glad you are here. We need more people to believe in our future.”
“How can people not believe in our future?” The Headmaster turned then to gaze at his friend soberly. “This year’s students showed great promise – and it is only the start. I meant what I said in my speech. It was a speech not just for our students, but also for the Board and the Council. I know doomsayers believe that the beginning of the end has arrived for the King’s Assassins. I disagree. Our future, contrary to opinion, remains bright. That is what I believe.”
The tall, thin Headmaster gazed out at the empty dark line which stretched in a long U through the forest of trees which obscured the Academy from the road. Spring had ended and the vigour of summer had begun. Between the green leaves and dark green pine, bright dappled sunlight wavered on fields of bright flowers and the grassy expanse of the park.
Our future remains bright, he told himself again. I will fight for it. We all will.
 May it be noted that at this point some of the teachers could be heard to cheer sotto voce, “Hear, Hear!” This, as is common, startled many students who had, up until then, thought of their instructors as being a heartless, emotionless, friendless group of people who did not have the comforts of family and social life – and therefore had to gain what cheer they could from inflicting annoyances on their students. The idea that teachers enjoy vacations and have private lives is always a surprise to students the world over.
 Automatons, a subject of many speculative books, is a frontier of science and technology yet to be explored. Five years ago in Doran’s Institute for Science and Technology, the outline and blueprint of an automaton was created. Standing at three feet with a barrel of metal for a body, the automaton, known as Kapller’s Automaton, does little more than roll across the floor on small steel wheels. One day, students believe, automaton’s will do their homework for them. That is a future yet to be made real, if ever.
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