Story written and directed by Dio (thats me!). Please note that all actors in this presentation are over the age of 21, irrelevant of their ages on paper and no people were hurt in the actual production *grin*. Also note this is FANTASY, something I dreamed up, swords and sorcery and slaves and...well you get the picture. So if you were looking for one of those "hot boy moves in next store" randy fuck stories, move along!

If you couldn't figure it out, this is the continuation of Book One. It runs somewhere around 24000 words, so give your eyes a break and don't read it all at once! ^_^ Rory, Jaden, and Rev won't be going anywhere...I promise. Be on the lookout for Book Three in the next couple of weeks.

By reading this story you are agreeing that you are of legal age to read erotic material in your country/city/state and that you will NOT reproduce/copy/change/post this story anywhere else UNLESS you e-mail me AND I give you permission! Thanks for your support!

Grey Eyed Justice -- Book Two

Curse of Inhibition

Chapter 4 -- The swordsman who...couldn't

"Hey...isin't that...?" A pair of footsteps had stopped behind Rory's back. Rory was leaning forwards, his forearms resting on the chilled stone balustrade that was the only thing stopping him from falling off the stone balcony onto the hard cobblestones of the courtyard below.

"Wow...didn't know the rumors were true." A low whistle. "Look at that hair, c'mon lets talk to him!"

"Are you crazy?" the first voice whispered back. "Do you know who he is?"

"What? What's wrong?" the second girl couldn't mask her annoyance, "He's a slave just like us. Why shouldn't we talk to him?"

Rory grinned broadly, knowing the two servant girls couldn't see his face. It was like this pretty much everywhere he went in the sprawling manor. Whether he was down in the courtyard, up on the balconies, or simply walking down the labyrinth-like halls, the giant gossip machine had its all-seeing eye trained on the strange Northman. He was a celebrity sensation that everyone tried to avoid--which was yet another reason Rory was half-hanging off the balustrade trying to stifle yawns.

"But you don't eat with my Lord at every meal now do you? They say even the little lady treats with him like her own brother!"

"They also say he can kill you with a single word, but we all know that's a lie don't we?" Both of their voices rang pleasantly in Rory's ears; strange accents to go with their strange manners. A pair of footsteps made their way closer to the edge where Rory leaned. With a concentrated effort he tore his eyes away from the rhythmic clanging of the apprentices sparring in the courtyard below and straightened to speak with the daring serving girl. He turned and flashed the girl a smile, which turned genuine when he caught sight of her long blonde hair, half-hidden beneath the white cap that announced her status as a maid. She was taller than he was, and beneath the long black dress she had some pleasant bulges in all the right spots. Behind her stood another maid, shorter and plumper, who took one look at Rory, bowed and turned to retreat, the white sheet she was holding billowed sideways in her haste.

"Hi, I'm Rory..." Rory started and then stopped. His smile turned leadened as the girl paled visibly. She stared at him with her lips slightly parted, as she finally seemed to notice what he wore. He had chosen the least bright of his new and alien wardrobe: A tunic of orange and black that only magnified the reddish tint in his hair which never wanted to lie flat. The servant gasped and hastily averted her eyes, staring resolutely at the floor she curtsied.

"M...M'Lord! Forgive me!" she squeaked, and turning she lifted the hem of her skirt and ran down the balcony chasing her rapidly disappearing comrade. The echoes of their conversation reached his ears through some trick of the arches.

"I told you so! Slave indeed. You'll get yourself killed one day if you don't mind your tongue."

"I thought I was to die! Such fierce a tiger..." the voices trailed off as they rounded the corner at a brisk trot.

Rory stood for a while, the after-image of her horrified face burned into his memory. M'Lord? Rory wondered if he had heard wrong. He slumped back over the balustrade in defeat and sighed. So this was how it was to be for the rest of his life? So what if he ate at a Lord 's Table? In the North anyone who had business with his Lord could visit his table. Rory couldn't understand the strange Thiian obsession with class and rank. If you were suited for a certain job then what was the problem? The maids, servants and slaves were no less of a person than he was, and by the same token the Lords were no better--they were simply recognized for having a decent head on their shoulders. Thiians on the other hand had rules on top of rules atop regulation of rules and tenants for the rules of rules of regulations and...the whole civilization was mad. He felt like he was slowly being suffocated, no-one would speak to him and he felt like...he felt


Rory inhaled and bellowed as loud as he could out across the courtyard. He laced his great cry with all the bitterness and frustration that had been smothering him since he had arrived at Lord Edmund's manor. He screamed until his lungs burned and his throat went raw. He screamed and didn't care when all the swordsmen in the court below stopped what they were doing and looked around in alarm. He didn't care when several started pointing up at the balcony, he didn't care how many rules he had just broken. He wanted to he roared until he had to sit down panting from the effort and his throat burned. His head spun and stars danced playfully about the sides of his vision and he laughed. Now that had felt good!

Lord Edmund's offices occupied a large portion of the third floor. Rory strode through the ornate double doors into the reception foyer. At his entry pale faces half-hidden beneath loose black robes rose in surprise at the curious colour riot that had suddenly entered their drab midst. The room was filled with desks of all shapes and sizes. Set roughly in a square, they all pointed towards a great black oak table set in their midst. Behind it, a familiar bony face and accusing claw-like finger rose to confront the intruder.

"You again! How many times do I have to tell you!? I have no work for a useless slave. Work is for those with uses!" His claw-like finger tried to spear him from across the table. "You cannot read, you cannot write, you are just a pathetic pebble drifting along in a current...I ask you what you can do and you tell me `horses'. WHAT USE HAVE I FOR A HOSTLER? NOW BEGONE!" His voice was thin and whiny; it rose and warbled, it washed over Rory in useless fury.

Rory tried to subvert his smile into a scowl with no luck. He marched up to Treasurer Lellil's desk and planted his hands on the smooth dark wood, fixing the gnarled old number cruncher with one of his brilliant green eyes. "I want to see my Lord" was all Rory said. No matter how badly Lellil tried to treat him, Rory had taken a liking to the bitter and petty old man. Probably because he was the only person in this madhouse to speak what was actually on their mind.

Lellil's thin dehydrated lips speared Rory with a sneer of utmost contempt. "Get out of my sight or I shall call the guards! A slave wanting something?" He lowered his cowled head and leaned over his desk to expose Rory to his rancid breath that smelled rank with olives. "Best beat it scamp, before I have you flogged."

Rory shied away from the stench, then smiled. Lellil had threatened to have him flogged eleven times now, he was starting to sound like his grandfather's old crow, who knew only six words and repeated them stubbornly to any who was foolish enough to listen. "So he's not here I take it? Thanks! Make sure you tell him I'm looking for him alright?" Rory whirled and strode back up the aisle out of the room before Lellil had a chance to pull his withered jaw off of his desk. Once out into the hall and out of view of the speechless scribes--who by the looks had never seen anyone talk in such manner to their boss. Rory let his shoulders slump. If Edmund was away, that meant Disel was too. He never had anything to do unless they were around. As of late they were gone far too often, leaving to visit other estates or to visit the local magistrate's offices. Rory's mouth filled with a bitter flavour; for a slave that cost a million golden eagles, he sure was useless. He couldn't read, couldn't write...all he was good with was horses and a bow. But whoever heard of a million golden eagle horse fetcher? Rory wasn't ashamed of what he could do, but he felt in no small part guilty that Sir Edmund had had to pay such a great sum for what the Thiian society considered mostly useless. He had never had a use for letters before...horses were most undemanding creatures. Lellil's words came to mind then, words the old man had snarled at him the first time they met.

"You're like a golden chalice...a chalice that someone had used to age feces in an armoire and now you're good for nothing but just that!"

He wandered the halls for a bit, but soon tired of having servants, Lords and Ladies all do huge double takes as he walked past. Rory rubbed his head ruefully, wondering if he had sprouted horns yet. Kill with only a glance eh? Rory had just decided to return to his chambers--a mid-sized room that was thankfully in the nearly empty west-wing of the manor--when two armoured figures caught his attention, they had come out of a side corridor and started to march in front of him, and with blessed relief they had ignored him completely. One was a tall and lanky boy with thin wire-framed glasses hanging off his pointy nose, while the other was a bit shorter with a stocky build common to habitants of the western mountains. Both their heads were soaked and sweat dripped off them onto their blue tunics liberally as they laughed loudly.

"Did you see Yale's face when I smacked his bottom with the flat of my sword? I thought he was going to wet his pants," the tall one said.

"How much did you win?"

"Two silvers!" the first said loudly, still chuckling, "Davim didn't think I could do was almost worth it to brave Jinx's fury" His voice dropped and he put his broad hands on his hips, "You shame the name of apprentice! No one in his right mind would try and gut a man from his arse, he said! Like I would try that in a real fight?" He lifted an imaginary sword and danced ahead, fencing with the air, abruptly he paused and cupped his ear as if listening to his opponent, "What's that good man? Having trouble in the privy? Is it congestion? Wait a moment; I have just the move that'll fix you up if you'll keep your arse still!"

"Give it a good name, like Dance of the Runs, or asscracker!"  the other added with a snicker.

More peals of laughter.

Rory grinned to himself as he listened and veered off at the next fork, uttering a prayer of thanks to the god of boredom--Rory wasn't actually sure there was one, but he thought it best safe than sorry. That boy's story was almost one worthy of the North. The thought sparked a pang of longing, duller than it had been, but it still hurt to remember everything and everyone that he missed. After a bit of thought Rory decided that the courtyard would be more entertaining than he thought after all...It couldn't get any worse--that was certain.

With an eager trepidation that Rory himself didn't quite understand, he made his way out into one of the manor's many courtyards. From what Rory knew of the grounds, the main courtyard lay in an open area surrounded by the cold stone balconies he had been up on earlier, but that wasn't where Rory headed. This time he made his way to one of the smaller courts, to the north of the grounds. Instead of cobblestones and organized rows of sparring partners, this courtyard was filled with white-kilted young men with light leather armour. Jinx had tried to explain the significance of a white kilt from a blue from a Rory wished he had listened a bit closer to what he had been saying. He thought it had something to do with rank, whites were...novices he seemed to remember, the lowest on the ladder. They bore clouds of dust into the air as scattered pairs of fighters went after each other with unusual and frequently unconventional styles. The only requirement here seemed to be enthusiasm.

Rory was quick to spot Jinx, the blacksmith and sometimes swordfighter was roving between the young men with a large piece of supple birch. It was hard to miss him as he towered over most of the boys. As he stalked from pair to pair the birch stick would flicker and cause yelps of dismay.


Rory grinned as he watched. To get a better vantage point he wandered over to where several troughs full of fresh water had been set up in a small semi-circle. Rory planted himself on one of the benches nearby; enjoying the fact that no-one paid him the least bit of mind. His attention was quickly caught by two of the smaller swordfighters fighting nearby, one slightly shorter than the other. The pair caught his interest not because of how they fought, but because the shorter one was the only fighter who bore a blue kilt instead of a white one in the chaos filled yard. Rory strained, but the name for the blue pleated kilt eluded him. Leave it to Thiians to complicated everything. A swordsman was a swordsman in Rory's book, and a dead one was still a dead one, no matter what his kilt said.

The two young men--well boys really, maybe a little younger than Rory, it was hard to tell with Thiians, they were all so paisley white--stood stark still, facing each other warily with the air thick between them. Rory could tell the taller one was getting edgy, his foot sneaked forwards almost unnoticed while his opponent stood much like a statue. Flexing his legs abruptly, the taller one moved in with a jump and feinted with his sword before pulling back at the last moment. The shorter boy was claimed by his apparently ultra-sharp reflexes: he jerked his wrists forwards to block the impending blow in what Rory supposed was a technically perfect cross-body block, but ended up opening his right guard and found himself over-committed. The taller one smacked him while the short boy was off-balance. Though Rory couldn't see the shorter boy's head past the protective leather gear, there was something wrong. His motions were tense as he took a quick step backwards and flung up his guard in challenge.

"AGAIN!" A small voice somewhere on the register between tenor and the low ranges of an alto shouted.

This time shorty was on the attack, and Rory had to give the boy credit, he had incredibly fast wrists. His blunted practice blade whirred through the air and while Rory had no trouble seeing the blade, all an untrained eye would see was a blur of flashing metal. The tall boy wove a decent defence, he slowly gave ground as he quickly found out he could not match shorty's speed. In a desperate attempt to throw off shorty's attack the tall slim swordsman feinted again. Rory winced as shorty raised his guard yet again in reflex, the movement was flawless...but the timing horrid. This time the tall boy's sword sliced sideways and knocked shorty off his feet. The collision of metal on leather and the resulting dust cloud as shorty rolled to a stop several feet away gave Rory phantom pains in his own side.

"AGAIN!" the voice shouted as he jumped to his feet with untempered enthusiasm. Rory couldn't help but think how stubborn shorty was. He wasn't improving at all.

The tall boy jerked his mask off of his head, spilling blonde locks across his shoulders. "No! This is stupid. You always fall for the same trick even though you know its coming!"

Enthusiasm apparently didn't count for much.

"But..." shorty started and then stopped as Jinx came sauntering up with his birch. Whap...whap! The birch caught shorty in the stomach and the back causing him to double over in pain. Those huge arms of the blacksmith were a lot faster than they looked.

"IDIOT!" The tall man roared grabbing the boy by his collar and lifting him off the ground. His bushy black beard was vibrating with the force of his words, "HOW MANY TIMES DO I TELL YOU NOT TO RAISE YOUR GUARD? ARE YOU DAFT? CLOGGED EARS?" Rory had to grin as Jinx chewed him out thoroughly, Rory was surprised shorty didn't burst into tears--that birch had to hurt. Rory could only watch with the corner of his mouth itching as the birch found it mark again...and again until Jinx was satisfied his message had finally gotten through. Shortly after Jinx had left, shorty ripped off his headgear and threw it aside. His sword followed and he stomped angrily towards the water troughs. As he came closer Rory tried to catch his eye, but the short black-haired boy was resolutely staring at the troughs, as if steeling himself mentally.

"Hey, kid!" Rory said as the boy marched right by him, ignoring him. Rory had to turn and he watched with no small amount of interest as the boy knelt in front of the trough. He sighed once and muttered something inaudibly before he then dunked his head until even his shoulders were darkened by the lapping water.


Fascinated, Rory walked over to stand beside the boy. Bubbles of all sized broke the surface as he slowly exhaled underwater. His thick hair was tossed about his head until the bubbles finally diminished and stopped completely.

"Hey, kid? You OK?" Rory said, lowering his head down beside the boy's back, he spoke into the water.


Rory hesitantly prodded the kid's tunic, which was soaked in sweat. "Kid?"

No answer except for the background lapping of water against the wooden trough as it slowly settled

"Hey, this isn't funny shorty!" Rory said angrily and grabbed the boy by the back of his blue kilt at the waistband where his tunic had ridden up. Rory pulled, but his hand slipped off the sweat-soaked fabric, scraping his fingernails painfully. With a grunt Rory readjusted his grip with both hands this time, pulling hard. The boy was much stronger than he looked. His lithe arms strained and his fingers turned white as he gripped the side of the trough with what looked like every fibre of his being. All Rory succeeded in doing was pulling the boys legs up off of the ground; his head still buried underwater.

Rory finally lost his temper. He gritted his teeth and wrapped his arms around the boy's waist. "Stupid stubborn giiiiit!" he roared, as he tried to wrench the boy from his perch over the trough. With a surprised burst of bubbles from the boy's mouth and a crash, Rory pulled over both boy and trough, overturning it and dumping water all over his pants.

Once his grip on the overturned trough was lost, Rory tossed him onto the ground and looked at his pants in dismay. Mud had spattered all over the precious material, and they were soaked through to his skin. He turned to glare accusingly at the dark haired boy who lay coughing and sputtering in the suddenly muddy area.

"What the hell were you trying to do? KILL yourself?"

It took a while for the boy to answer, he was soaked through and through and he was still coughing up what looked like half of the trough's contents. "T...that's right!" His words cut off as he leaned over and threw up. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and his startling blue eyes flashed as he looked up at Rory "I was until you stopped me! I mean...what the HELL? MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!" he yelled.

On the verge of retorting, Rory froze and held his tongue. It wasn't the brat's words that shut him up...but his eyes. There was no fear, no hesitation, only a deep malice...a hatred Rory wasn't sure was completely directed at his would be rescuer. Before he could recover, another voice--a deep bass--joined the fray.

"What on the four mounts is going on here?" Jinx growled loudly. Rory looked up to watch the smith stalk over to them, thunder seemed to follow in his footsteps. His small sharp eyes took in the overturned trough, Rory's soaked pants, and the boy who looked like he had just been dragged from the deep--all that was missing was the small stringy seaweed caught in the boy's hair and his undying gratitude for being saved from suffocation.


"Don't look at me! It's his bloody fault!" The boy said, spitting out water from his mouth and trying to wring out his hair.

"Rev..." Jinx growled, his voice deep in the register and if Rory hadn't been listening closely, wouldn't have been out of place coming from the snout of a bear. Rory tried his best to keep his face serious but the boy, Rev as he was named, was just too outrageous for words.

"Jinx, forget it. It really was an accident. No harm done, right?" Rory pleaded to the man with his eyes. He hoped Jinx wouldn't overreact, he was a kind man after all, if you looked deep inside the walls of muscle he had around his heart. Jinx had been the man who removed that stupid metal bracelet from his arm after all, muttering all the while to himself about slave rights and cursing the emperor with every second breath.

"Forget it? Forget it?" Jinx turned and smacked Rev on the back with his birch, "On your feet soldier! NOW!" Jinx's mind never seemed to rest, he whirled as Rev clamoured to his feet warily and faced the suddenly quiet practice yard. "AND WHO GAVE YOU TWIG DICKED RUNTS PERMISSION TO FUCKING TWIDDLE YOUR PENIS' WHILE MY BACK IS TURNED EH? NEXT PAIR TO BE CAUGHT SLACKING WILL BE RUNNING LAPS AROUND THIS COURTYARD UNTIL THEIR FEET TURN INTO BLOODY STUMPS. NOW MOVE!"

Rory thought the threat entirely implausible, but the novices in the courtyard had no such notion. The clanging and battering of swords resumed with a fury and dust rose like a great pillar, shimmering in the afternoon sun as feet shuffled back and forth, parrying, running, lunging--even blue-kilted swordsmen who had just been watching the sparring suddenly had found urgent tasks that needed their full attention and the utmost haste! Somewhere far away from Jinx.

With a grunt that could have meant anything, Jinx swivelled and grabbed Rev by his shoulder and forced him over to Rory. "Now apologize apprentice."

"What? Why should I? I didn't do anything wrong! I told you, it was all his fault." Rev said stubbornly, refusing to meet Rory's eyes. Wrong answer.

Jinx grabbed a handful of Rev's hair and forced his head to face Rory. "I'll say this once you ignorant little brat." The tall man growled deep in his throat. "This here is Rory, and you had best know that he is Lord Edmund's personal slave. He's gone through twice as much as you ever will, and could trounce your little ass back to that shithole of a shack you came from with a single word." Jinx paused to let his words sink in. While Rev didn't look all too surprised--in fact he looked more sullen than anything--Rory 's eyebrows shot upwards at what he had just heard. A slave able to blacklist a free swordsman? Just what sort of madness was this? Jinx's hand turned white with the immense pressure he looked to be exerting on Rev's shoulder. "Well? Do you have anything you'd like to say?"

Rev shook off the giant's hands and pursed his lips. His neck muscles tensed as he looked up at Rory and his right eye started twitching almost unnoticeably. The boy looked like he had just been made to eat an unripened fruit, its taste leaving a sour and bitter flavour on his tongue. He opened his mouth once then closed it just a quickly. He tried again, but ended up grimacing and he snapped his mouth shut once again, gritting his teeth. This was all too much for Rory who couldn't help laughing--that definitely didn't help matters either.

"Jinx...I mean it! Forget it. If you make him apologize to me when he doesn't want to its worthless...right? Besides, like I said before, it was an accident." Rory almost missed it, Rev's eyes widened slightly in surprise, but it was quickly masked by a scowl.

Jinx eyed Rory warily for a moment, and Rory had this strange notion to check his head for horns again, but the moment passed quickly. Had that been an uncharacteristic thing for a Thiian to say? Should he be demanding twenty lashes? Two pounds of flesh? The big man shrugged and Rory had a sneaking suspicion Jinx thought he was mad, "If you say so..."

"See!?" Rev couldn't resist taunting his mentor with that know-it-all attitude of his. Rev seemed to have a talent for saying the wrong thing at just the right time. Jinx grabbed him by his tunic with one massive hand and lifted the boy up to his eye-level.

"Don't think you're getting off that easy! Stable duty for two weeks! You're banned from sparring until you learn some respect!" Jinx let Rev drop to the ground. "And take Rory to the barracks and give him some dry clothes, Lady Worchester will have my head if she catches you walking around wet like that." The boy fell over as he landed hard on his backside but quickly scrambled to his feet, his eyes wide and protests on his lips.

"B...but the festival is in two weeks! How am I to pass if I can't spar?"

"Apprentice!" Jinx thundered, his head had turned a nasty shade of red, as if it was building pressure. Rory was sure steam should be coming anytime soon. "I thought sparring with all the novices today would give you some humility and manners, but now I'm not sure what I should do with you. Do you really think you'll be able to catch up to your father if you stay the way you are now? Right now you're so far away you can't even glimpse his shadow. Perhaps another year as apprentice will do you a world of good. No sparring." With that, Jinx turned and stomped away, his birch already whizzing through the air threatening a pair of desperate novices who were beating each other as if their lives depended on it. "MONGREL! IF I SEE THAT KNEE OF YOURS GO PAST YOUR FOOT WHEN YOU NEXT LUNGE I WILL FIX YOUR PROBLEM BY CUTTING OFF YOUR FOOT! OR DO YOU WANT TO CRIPPLE YOUR KNEE BEFORE YOU CAN EVEN SHAVE..."

Rev stared at the ground frowning. A small muscle in the side of his jaw was working steadily as he zoned someplace far away. After a long moment of silence in which he ignored Rory completely, he turned and stalked away. "Well, come on!" he said over his shoulder, a bitter note in his voice. "You want dry clothes don't you?" Then in a much lower voice, "I'll show that stupid fat bear..."

Not knowing where they were going, Rory let the smaller boy guide him while he watched out of the corner of his eye. This was yet another interesting person he had met! Rory had been really afraid that there wouldn't be others like Lellil and Jinx, men who both kept their hearts and minds separate and who spoke what they felt, but here was another...just a kid really and not quite a head shorter than Rory. His wavy black hair seemed to mirror his current mood perfectly. Curiosity got the better of him and Rory quickened his steps to catch up to Rev. His heart was inexplicably beating really fast. It was important suddenly that Rev not hate him. Who else remotely his age did he have to talk to? "You know, I was watching your sparring match."

Rev continued to look straight ahead, but it was hard to miss the flush that suddenly turned his ears red. "Oh you did huh? Then I'm sure you had a good laugh! Did it make your day, watching me get stomped?"

That native hostility was starting to grow on Rory. He found himself liking the sharp-tongued youth even though his comments were all so far directed his way. He thought for a moment before he arrived at a decision, maybe he could help a little. With Sir Edmund gone it wasn't as if he had any duties to attend. "I must admit I'm a little disappointed," when Rev shot him a withering glare Rory hastily amended his words, "No, no! Not with you. I meant with Thiians in general."

"What have Thiians got to do with my bruises exactly?" Rev asked bitterly. He was still showing a lack of interest in anything Rory had to say. Time to change that--if only a little.

"Well, nothing...and at the same time everything!" Rev's tread stopped abruptly, but Rory ignored his lowered eyebrows and continued walking, the boy had to run to catch up again. "I mean...I had always heard stories about the great Thiian Empire is in my homeland, but most minstrel stories and songs I had always thought were comedies, even the plays had their moments. But now that I've been here I now believe all those stories were actually true and not farces at all."

"Stories? Like what?"

Rory thought for a moment before he replied, "'Lady of Roses'?"

Rev gaped, "Wait, you said comedies right? You thought that one was funny? It's supposed to be a tragedy! And she hangs herself in her flower garden at the end with a rope woven of rose stems. How is that funny?"

Rory nodded, "What about 'A penny for two pounds'?"

"Never heard of it."

Rory blinked innocently again, filing away a new piece of Rev's puzzle. You could tell a lot about a person's past by what sort of stories they knew. "'Love lost', then. That one made my sides hurt."

Rev stopped and grabbed Rory's arm, forcing him to halt as well. "You think two brothers poisoning each other and having Lady Felicia live out the rest of her days wasting away in loneliness, funny?"

Rory chuckled as he remembered parts of the play that had been shown in his Lord's house. Half the fun was watching the actors lose their thread in the play as the great house filled with the booming echoes of laughter at all the wrong places. "Am I wrong? Why didn't the two brothers simply declare their love in front of each other and their Lady? And whoever heard of poisoning your own blood? In my homeland, the two brothers would have brawled it out, and the victor would claim the Lady. Why bother making some huge complicated plot to kill your own brother when your fists can do the talking for you? I mean, they might as well be two jealous women instead of men, the way they act."

Rev was livid, the flush of embarrassment he had felt before had been replaced by one of anger. "You missed the point completely!" he sputtered, letting go of Rory's arm in order to prod him with a finger. "Listen, the elder brother was the one engaged to marry her, but the younger became jealous and wanted her for himself, right? It was only natural that one of them would have to die! They both couldn't live with unrequited love! The tragedy was that both of them died and no one got the Lady while she ended up living in shadows of grief! Got it?"

The sweet taste of triumph--getting Rev to speak to him--was eclipsed as Rory felt his smile slipping away, "You think too much like a Thiian." Rev was indeed more than he seemed.

" 'Cause I AM a Thiian" Rev assured him. "C'mon we're here."

The barracks Rev had led them too was a squat two-storied building on the southern-most wall of the manor estate. The barracks looked as though it had been almost an after-thought addition, its chunky rough stone walls and harsh angles were nothing like the smooth curves and arches that dotted most of the large country estate.

Several Blue-clad young men that were lounging off-duty in the yard stood to eye the strange Northman warily, but when they caught sight of Rev's scowl, they turned away grinning. Rory wondered in the back of his mind what sort of stories this little incident was going to provoke. Rory just hoped it didn't make Rev's life any more difficult than it already was. Rory didn't need to ask, the boy's flush told the story for him.

As they stepped through the archway into the inner courtyard, Rory couldn't help but size up the building with a doubtful eye. "So all of Sir Edmunds troops live here? Seems like it might get a bit cramped."

Rev again turned to stare at Rory, he shook his head as if saying `what? Do you live in a box or something?'

"Of course this can't house all of his troops. This is for Novices and Apprentices. Journeymen and Swordsmen get their own building...and anyone with higher rank gets their own private room in the manor itself." Rev turned back and continued walking, "What do you think, we each get two hands of headroom and we all get packed in single file? What a stupid question."

Rory's first instinct was to get angry, he felt the white hot rage build in his stomach as it sometimes did. This little brat had some nerve telling him off when he'd only just arrived last week. And here Rory was trying to figure out a good way for him to lose his mental block and become a better swordsman...and this...this kid had the nerve to tell him he was asking stupid questions? Rory bit his tongue to keep words he would regret from flooding his mouth; Rev had to be handled delicately. He took a calming breath, suppressing his emotions. Besides, the longer he thought about was a sort of silly question. He had seen several large courtyards filled with men and boys training. His mood lightened and he couldn't help grinning like an idiot...nope...there was no doubt: Rev was right. That had been a stupid question.

Rory followed the boy, who led them deeper into the dark confines of the barracks. It was dark inside, but the floors and walls, while plain, were spotless. Mess tables sat in neat row with long benches stacked one atop another. Light was pouring in from two doors, one of which must be the kitchen, from the mouth-watering aromas that tantalized the two boys, beckoning. The other door led into what Rory assumed would be the commons.

"Its just past here, you can use my room and find some extra...oh shoot." Before Rev had completely entered the doorway, he was already pushing Rev backwards away from the doorway and pressed him urgently against the wall. He was cursing steadily under his breath now as he peeked back around the corner. "Earthfire! I didn't know she was back already." He turned back and pulled Rory towards the other door he had seen earlier. "We'll have to go around..."

Rory shook his head again in wonderment. Interesting things certainly had a knack for following Rev around. "Someone else you'd get into trouble with if they caught you with soggy sandals?"

"Huh?" Rev was distracted as he kept watch for shadows entering the doorway he was rapidly retreating from. "Oh no, I...well you wouldn't understand. Best you never meet her actually. Your life will be for the better." Rev tried to hide his face, but Rory noted his ears reddening all the same.

Rev pulled him through into the kitchen where a man in what had once been a white apron stood directing a horde of younger boys who were busy chopping vegetables or turning skillets. At their entry the man looked up and grinned at Rev's dripping clothing. "Ah, went for a swim did ya?" He screwed his face as he pretended to think, "Funny that, nearest river is several hours walk..." Rev ignored him and stalked past, his eyes shooting bolts at any of the boys who dared to look upon his fury. Rory shot the cook what he hoped was an apologetic shrugs which only prompted a frown from the cook. "Hey now! He's new isn't he? Introduce the lad, boy."

Rev stopped and eyed the cook aggressively, "So I'm a boy am I? And he's a lad? I hope that cleaver of yours slips and detaches your fingers permanently from your wrist. Then they can serenade us at dinner with a rousing chorus of `Free at last! Free at last!'"

"If I do, you'll eat them and love it anyways boy. I'll call you whatever I want until you graduate from them blues of yours...but my bones tell me that won't be before I lose all me teeth!" The cook grinned broadly, showing off his crooked and yellowed teeth and sent Rev a hand gesture Rory had never seen before. From the unexpected flush on the boy's cheeks, it hadn't been overly flattering.

"Stupid, moth-eating, slug-roasting, pea brained..." Rev muttered under his breath turning reluctantly from the cook. Rory winced as his arm was nearly torn from its socket as Rev made a beeline out of the kitchen. The boy seemed to have enough sense not to provoke the man who cooked his meals too much. At least his anger didn't rule him completely, he had streaks of common sense, but perhaps those only came with issues relating to his stomach...

"Up the stairs, c'mon hurry up. My legs are chaffing from this bloody wet cloth and I'm cold. Stop staring off at nothing and move those legs of yours."

Rory decided silence was really the only way to not provoke him further, so he clamped his mouth shut. Up a winding stone staircase and several door-lined hallways later, Rev finally pulled open an unmarked door at the far end of the corridor and pulled Rory inside with a strange urgency. He insisted upon peeking around every corner and up every stairway before Rory could follow, and once inside, he peeked back out the door stealthily before shutting it with a dull clang. His breath left him with what Rory sensed was great relief.

The room wasn't cramped exactly, but it certainly qualified as cozy. Two double bunk-beds were set against either wall, and a sole piece of hanging parchment decorated the wall at the far end, and underneath was a small chest bound with iron.

"I don't blame you, I wouldn't want to be seen with me either."

Rev, in the midst of moving over to inspect the chest paused and reddened inexplicably. He grimaced and continued on to the chest, throwing it back on its hinges so the top knocked the unyielding stone behind. "You're taller than me so my stuff will never fit, I think we're in luck though. You can wear Klein's spare uniform." Rev tossed some loose bits of clothing his way before starting to strip himself. Rory followed suit and peeled off his ruined pants.

"Can I ask you a question?" Rory said, fumbling with the unfamiliar kilt. Rev plopped his wet shirt down onto the ground in a pile that joined his soaked kilt and undergarments. He grabbed a new dry kilt and turned to watch Rory fumble with the unfamiliar garment.

"Are you sure you're going to be ok? It's like this, fold it over and the clasp fits together like a jig-saw." Rev demonstrated by pulling his own up and fastened it deftly with his nimble fingers. Rory just stared, there was just something about this boy...he got this warm feeling that spread out around his body whenever he watched Rev. It was like looking at a piece of undiscovered art, something that everyone else thought was useless...or stupid...but for one reason of another was special in a way that Rory wasn't quite sure he himself could describe. Maybe it was his abilities that were acting up again, Bern'alad were mostly solitary horsemen for good reason.

Misunderstanding Rory's silence, Rev sighed and demonstrated again how the two clasps fit together. Rory, realizing he had been staring, resumed his battle with the blue kilt as he fought to keep his cheeks from imitating his hair. "Jinx, mentioned something about your he a great swordsman?"

Rory nearly fell over backwards as Rev bounded over to him, his eyes suddenly shining. "The best!" he said, grinning. "He's a master of the ninth tier! That's one shy of Lord Edmund," If Rev's smile got any bigger, it would crack his head into two pieces. Then like a brief glimpse of the sun during a storm, his expression clouded again and the muscles in his jaw started working again. The shadows had returned. "Why should you care? A Northman like you wouldn't know anything about swordsmen."

The kilt finally settled on his hips and remained intact. Rory tugged on it warily, wondering dubiously whether it would hold. "I may not know much. But I'm a good guesser. For instance," Rory said as he tugged off his tunic, "I bet your father, this ninth tier swordsman is a noble, just like you. Sent away to a friend's estate to train maybe? Or did he abandon you? He's can't be dead, not with the way you speak of him." Rory's tunic joined the wet pile developing on the floor and he decided he wouldn't care if he never saw it again. Flashy clothes did not suit him one bit. "Probably the first one, judging by how poorly you fight."

Rory wished he could have painted a picture just then of Rev's expression. Icy blue eyes flared, and his fists clenched his dry tunic tightly to his chest.

One corner of Rory's lips sneaked upwards into a rueful half-smile before he could quite stop himself. "Do you remember that stupid conversation about plays we just had?" Rory continued when Rev nodded grudgingly. "It just so happens that the two plays you knew loads about, were told to us in high English--that's Lordly language as we call it up North. That's not anything special I guess...I know plenty of men not nobly born who've read high English playwrights. But that play you had never heard of?"

Rev's lips had pursed as Rory spoke, he seemed to shrink with every word that came out of Rory lips, blood was rapidly draining from his face. "'A Penny for Two Pounds' was it?" Rev said and Rory beamed, it seemed he had an incredible memory as well.

"Yup, `A Penny for Two Pounds'. Want to make a wager where I heard that one?" he paused, but Rev remained silent. Rory shrugged, "In a tavern on the latter day of lights! Brilliantly funny, but coarse and gruff like nothing I'd ever heard before. I think I learned half of the cuss words I know in English from that Play. Do you need some more convincing?"

The silence was so complete that Rory's sharp ears even made out a hushed conversation going on somewhere down the hall. Something was wrong...Rory had expected some surprise, maybe even some denial...but not this suddenly pale faced ghost. It was almost as if Rev had been caught with bloody murder still on his hands. Finally, Rev unfroze and took a deep breath. "No-one is supposed to know that." He said hoarsely. "Specially not someone like you."

"I'll ignore that." Rory said as he watched the boy wrestle with his feelings. Those powerful blue eyes had grown sullen, withdrawn almost. Rev's face was also pale, which sent warning gongs ringing inside Rory's head. There was something else he was missing. A shot in the dark...but...

"Out of curiosity...what happens if everyone finds out you're a lord's offspring?"

"You wouldn't! You can't!" he said loudly, surprising himself more than Rory. He eyed the younger boy warily, noting tensed muscles and a sporting a wild look Rory had never seen before. "He'll kill me."

"Whoa, calm down." Rory said, his own anger tingeing his words. "I'd never do anything like that. And if you can be sure of anything, it's my word--my bond. I won't tell a soul. I'm a Northman, not a ruddy monster!"

Slightly mollified, Rev's face darkened a bit as the shock wore off. He turned his back to continue dressing--too angry to speak--or was it fear? Sometimes the two emotions mimicked each other in the ambience. Rory decided to get rid of his original tunic after all, the orange and black clashed horribly with the sky blue of the strange swordsman kilt and swapped it for the off-white sleeveless shirt offered, for some reason after he had shucked his fancy clothes he felt at ease for the first time in a long time. Rev on the other hand, was sulking as he donned a matching garment, he eyed his soaked leather armour and then cursed under his breath. Rory took a deep breath.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you angry. I...well...I can help you know, at least, I think I can." Rory amended hastily, he was starting to sound too much like old Hathworth back home. He hated that showy know-it-all.

Rev sat down on the bed and let his head fall into his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. Before they disappeared behind his hands, Rory couldn't help but notice his eyes had lost the vivid colour and life they had held but moments ago. His heart was really reaching out for the odd and sometimes suicidal swordsman. When the boy spoke his voice was half-muffled behind his hands. "No-one can help me. Trust me, they've tried. I've been beaten, I've been lectured, heck I even got lessons from Sir Edmund himself. Like I said, no-one can help me. It's all useless. I'm useless. I should've never tried to become something I wasn't meant to be."

Rory let the silence draw out. It was a strange silence, one that was uncommon in the North. It was laden with guilt and frustration, and anger--very close to what Rory had been feeling earlier up on the balconies. Similar, but different.

"Has a Northman ever tried to help you?" Rory asked absently, shattering the stillness. Rev shifted on the bed and looked up, a strange expression on his face. His mouth tightened and his eyes blinked rapidly.

"And what could a Northman do for me?"

This time Rory's sigh was one of exasperation. He moved over to plant his feet in front of the boy, his hands on his hips and speared him with a reprimanding glare. "You said you listened to what I had to say earlier about those plays...but did you really listen? And not just with your ears, but with your mind? I wasn't just talking for the sake of hearing my own voice."

Rev held his gaze for a moment as he thought, but quickly dropped his eyes. "I...I'm...well, I remember what you said." A bit of sullen anger had returned to the boy's voice as well as a hefty chunk of indignation.

"And what was the last thing I told you? Think hard, this is important." Rory thought Rev would need a bit more encouragement, but to his surprise, Rev's forehead scrunched as he strained to remember.

"About the plays?"


Rev thought some more before his muscles seemed to relax. "You told me I thought too much like a Thiian." Rory again marvelled at the boy's memory. This was his key...Rev's memory. It was what made him special...his memory and his strange attitude towards his peers. Rory decided teaching Rev was going to be fun!

"Right, and that's the root of your problem. You think like a Thiian, you're taught by Thiians, you eat and breath all things Thiian and you know what? It doesn't suit you at all. Fighting is not about thinking with your head, it's about listening to what your heart has to tell you. Your mind can always be fooled, but never your heart." He looked over at the wall as he tried to remember what his father had taught him all those years ago. "Listen, there are all sorts of people in this land: Thiians, Northmen, Geirans, Tuylmen and more! And each and every person layer upon layer in those cultures is different. Since every person is different, each and every one of them reacts to a situation in a different manner--just like how everyone fights."

"I knew're barking. Either that or you were a really old man in another life."

Rory chuckled and fastened his gaze on Rev's eyes, he was pleased to note their sheen was returning somewhat, that determination and hatred was back. "Listen, when I was little my Father told me something that I think I'll remember for the rest of my life. He told me that by looking into a person's eyes you can tell a lot about that person. How their eyes react cannot be hidden like a voice's false words or a man's humble gestures. Did you know that no-one bows in the North?"

"Not like I had anyone to ask..." Rev said baiting, Rory tried to ignore him.

"No one bows because it's just another way for a man to hide his hide his real thoughts behind a meaningless gesture. Eyes can tell you a great deal about a person. Some have small beady eyes that flicker this way and that, others have eyes as large as owls and look like they miss nothing." Rev's forehead was creased and Rory knew he was fighting a losing battle. He changed his attack. "For instance, the reason I'm telling you all this is because of your eyes." As he spoke Rory had to resist the temptation to squirm under the boy's sharp gaze. It was powerful in ways he had never seen on anyone other than his father; Lord Edmund also had a similar gaze--Rev was a lord indeed. "You speak the words and mimic actions of Thiians, but your eyes are full of anger, hate and frustration, all of it directed mostly at yourself and none of it Thiian. Your eyes tell me one thing, your heart makes you bark at your comrades loudly, and your mind makes you fight like a dance with only two steps while your partner is whirling around you in a seventy-step turrad!"

Rev had retreated inside his shell again. Rory was sure the boy was wrestling over whether what Rory had to say. This time, instead of encouraging, Rory said nothing, he just stood there blocking Rev's escape, waiting. Rory would wait, it was pointless if Rev didn't have at least the courage to realize that he needed help. He needed to ask for help, and for the first time in maybe his life, rely on a complete stranger. The other choices were all cowards' ways out. If he didn't ask, then Rory decided he would leave the blockhead well alone. Rory hated cowards. The North hated cowards.

"Then...I mean you've said a lot of nothings, but you never told me how you could help! I mean, what am I doing wrong?" he asked exasperated. Rory frowned and shook his head, weary already from this short conversation. Was this what his Father had had to go through for ten years?

"You're thinking like a Thiian again. You want ten words that are going to change your life and those are ten words that I would never give you even if I could. A problem is a problem because you're supposed to learn something from it, getting a simple answer is not a solution, it's a cowards escape." Rory paused and let a hint of doubt creep into his voice. "Are you a coward?"

Rev was glaring now, his eyes flashing like they had in the courtyard. He shook his head and scowled, "Well, don't you just have it all figured out? I bet it must be nice knowing everything and lording it over everyone else huh?" Rev bounded to his feet and pushed bodily past Rory, his scowl degenerating into a sneer. "This is stupid, I don't need your help. I don't need anybody's help, specially no Northman."

Rory was half expecting that answer, but it still hit him hard. A blow below the belt that felt like it might knock the wind out of him. The worst part was that he really couldn't do anything about it. Although it hurt none the less knowing that he had been rejected, Rev had his own path to walk and it looked like it was a path that didn't involve Rory.


The word echoed pitilessly in his ears over and over. He was sick of hearing that. He was sick of Thiians. Regret that he had given his word to Sir Edmund threatened to overwhelm him. Rory held back the sigh he knew would come and quickly donned the strange pair of sandals Rev had left him; they squeezed the sides of his feet awkwardly, but they had good grip with the floor and they were meant to be light and mobile over the roughest and smoothest of fighting surfaces.

Rev hadn't waited for him in the corridor. By the time Rory exited he had already stormed down the hallway and was just rounding the corner. Rev hurried after him, catching him in the next hallway, he didn't try and walk beside the strange apprentice this time, he stayed several steps back wishing fervently that he had met someone a little less mule-headed. Rev, was a coward--and what was worse--the boy probably knew it.

It was at least a relief to be able to follow Rev out. If he had been left alone Rory was positive he would get himself lost. He wasn't sure, but Rev seemed to take a different route this time, ignoring the kitchen and taking the common room route instead, whether by design or chance Rory dared not ask. The commons was filled with plain, short tables and chairs that dotted the stone room in no particular set formation. It was dark as none of the large candles along the walls were lit yet, and the four small leaded windows set high above the floor doled only a meagre source of light even though it couldn't be that late in the afternoon.

The only two figures in the commons stood at their entry, crossing the short distance to greet Rev. They looked quite familiar and it didn't take long to place the tall and thin fellow with the wire-rimmed glasses and his short stocky companion, they were both grinning broadly at Rev, ignoring Rory completely for the moment.

"Hey mouse, you'll never guess who we were just talking too." The tall one said, his voice was mocking and filled with something just short of contempt. Mouse? Rory couldn't help thinking to himself.

Rev's scowl, if it were possible, seemed to dim the whole room even more and filled it with a dark fog...but that was just Rory's imagination running away from him again...Rev's emotions couldn't be that powerful could they? "If the answer starts with a `J' and ends with `anna' you can shove it up your ass."

The thin young raised his hands warily, "Whoa, somebody's in a bad mood, I would be too if Janna were looking for me." Far from sounding offended, the tall thin youth had his wide mouth stretched with a grin and seemed carved in stone.

"He's always in a bad mood." The stocky youth proclaimed solemnly. "Jared explained it to me once. He said the air is colder near the ground after all, he read somewhere that it makes short people grumpy, something to do with sluggish blood flow to the brain. I mean, that would pretty much explain mouse here."

"Whatever porky, go role in some mud or something." Rev growled and tried to brush past the two, but the boy with glasses blocked his path. He opened his mouth with a sly twinkle in his eye, but he never quite got to say anything before he was interrupted.

"So he was here after all." Rory turned to watch a new face walk briskly in from the mess. Rory couldn't help but feel his jaw drop with awe. In all his life he had never seen such a confident swagger--especially when it was a just a girl, Rory corrected himself. She wore different coloured clothes than Rev and his two not-quite companions, green with streaks of gold adorned her kilt, and instead of being pleated like Rory's own, it was smooth, loose enough to move around in but only came to the tops of her knees. Her hair was short and a near mirror image of Rev's dark black hair, her eyes on the other hand were quite different: a dark green emerald that was sharp and vivid. Her eyes were narrowed on the small swordsman and she circled him like a hunter, stalking up and looking him over. When she finally looked up into his face, Rev was red and shaking silently. What a glare she had!

"Still in Apprentice blues I see. Not that I'm always were the little slacker. What happened to your vow? What was it again?" Her mocking deep alto was visibly eating into Rev's quick temper, it was inevitable to flare.

"Shut up! You don't know anything." Rev snapped angrily but shut his mouth not unexpectedly when Janna's eyes turned frosty. She grabbed his shirt roughly and manhandled him with one arm until her nose was almost touching her own, bending over in the process.

"I'm sorry, maybe I didn't hear that last part quite right? My ears must be full of wax because I could almost swear I heard you just mouth off to a superior. But you wouldn't be that stupid, not my brother."

Brother? Now that Rory looked closely, he was surprised to find he hadn't noticed it earlier. They shared the same slender not quite thin build that must run in the family. Aside from the slight height difference, they might have been twins, if not for the different clothes and a couple of obvious lumps beneath Janna's form fitting armour.

Rev was shaking under her firm grip, and while he could no longer see the boy's eyes, he didn't need too. Rory could feel the black fog of anger flowing visibly into a spectrum Rory was sure he was the only one in the room that could see. This was not good, Rev had already been near the boiling point back in his room...but getting dressed down in public again? And by his sister?

Rory, not quite sure what he was trying to accomplish, opened his mouth, but Rev beat him to it. He brushed off his sister's hands and took a long step back and took a deep breath and held it before exhaling slowly. Unbeknownst to anyone but Rory, the clouds stayed, the breath was all for show. Rev bowed stiffly at the waist, "My apologies, you must have misheard me. I was talking to myself and got carried away." He said, speaking more to the floor than to the green and gold kilted young woman.

Janna ignored him for the time being and turned to glare at the two other swordsmen present, both had bewildered and confused expressions as if they couldn't quite believe what they were seeing. "And what exactly are you two staring at?" She sized them up and down quickly with her eyes, "Worm and Porky is it? Were you out sparring today with Mouse here?"

Both youths snapped to attention, their legs coming together, backs rigid, hands loose at their sides. It was the boy with glasses who responded. "No ma'am! We were sparring in the main courtyard today, Rev was told to spar in one of the outer rings on Headmaster Jinx's orders." She waited and after a while Worm, as Janna had named him, started squirming under her gaze, she was waiting for something apparently.

"...with the novices" Porky added almost under his breath wincing in Rev's direction as he did. The comment caused Janna to lazily look back over her shoulder and smirk. Rev kept his head down, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides as he carefully avoided her eyes. Rory felt his heart begin to reach out for Rev again, he quickly smothered the reaction. Rev deserved everything he was reaping...he was a selfish and arrogant little...

"And? What about you?" Rory looked up in surprise; those deadly green eyes seemed to explore every nook and cranny of his body with one glance, she blinked rapidly when her eyes finally and inevitably rested on his hair. "I don't think we've met before Red, although I wish we had! A real live Northman in the Hand's army? Sergeant Zexs must have had a fit when he saw you." From the looks on their faces, Worm and Porky hadn't noticed him at all until now. Worm was trying to catch Rev's eye urgently while Porky just stared blankly over at his outrageous red hair. Janna took a couple of steps and closed the gap between them, almost knocking Rev over in the process. She stopped uncomfortably close and grabbed his shoulders, squeezing them gently as she felt down his arms. "Well? Do you have a name Red?"

Rev tried to step between Janna and her prey, "His name is Rory and he's..." Rev had to stop when a blur of motion and the meaty sound of the back of Janna's hand caught Rev across the left cheek, he was forced backwards, rubbing his cheek with wide eyes. Rory frowned at her as she turned back with a grin on weathered lips that looked like they had seen too many sunny days.

"I'm sure," Janna said, her voice ringing sweetly, "he can speak for himself. Well?"

There was no point in trying to ignore her. Her hands were beginning to get a little too friendly with all that rubbing. "Its Rory," he tried to say as icily as he reasonably could without insulting her outright.

"Rory is it?" she said, tasting the unfamiliar name, her eyes narrowed slightly. "I think I like Red better. So Red, tell me? How did my little brother fare against the novices today?"

Rory couldn't resist the temptation and glanced over at Rev, whose cheek was fiery red from the backhanded slap. He avoided making eye contact though, like he didn't care what was said. Rory knew better--every muscle in his body was taut, waiting for Rory's answer, dreading. If he was hoping Rory would lie, he was mistaken--sadly so. Reap what you sow.

"You want a blow by blow account or the gist of it?"

"Oh my, you should be careful where and who you speak too. That accent of yours makes me tingle hearing it." Her hands wandered a little lower. "Just the interesting parts I think." Janna turned and winked over at Rev, who was doing his very best imitation of a beet. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in a room with his sister.

"Well, I can't tell you much." Rory said, hurriedly. "I only saw him sparring with one novice, a skinny fellow about a head taller. Rev was winning before he fell for a feint and got knocked. Pretty much the same for the second round, then Jinx came and started yelling. I can't say I remember exactly what was said but there was a lot of hitting involved."

"Oh, never mind that. I can guess what was said. Then?" One of her hands had stayed to his chest, it inched lower...lower still.

"Well..." Rory paused, wondering if he should tell her about the trough incident, it was bound to get out anyways. After a second of thought Rory decided it might be better if he didn't say anything, it might take too long and her hand might end up in a place it most certainly was not supposed to be. "A bit later Jinx banned him from the courtyards and sparring with other students." Rory finished in a hurry with one breath. "That's all."

Janna looked dubious for a moment, but her face relaxed into an easy grin as if satisfied with the ammunition she already had and she let her hands drop. "So much for challenging me come festival eh mouse?" she chuckled when he didn't answer. "Ah well...there's always next year...and the year after that...and then...who knows..." She paused and walked over to where Rev stood, his entire body a ball of knotted muscle. She took one of her fingers and placed it on his forehead, "Maybe you'll finally figure out how useless you really are! That Rev Swordsman can't even prove his own existence against his supposed subordinates." She pushed hard, sending Rev's head backwards. "Don't bother challenging me this festival mouse. I'll choose real iron if you do, and teach you a lesson even a dumb and cowardly mouse like you will never forget."

Janna turned back to Rory and grinned. Rory had the sudden impression as he was forced to look into that face of white teeth that he was meeting the eyes not of another human, but some scavenger, like a hyena. She placed a hand on his shoulder suggestively, "There's no helping it if you're not in my squad...but if you ever need anything. Let me know!" And before Rory could properly react, she reached down and flipped up his kilt and took a quick peak and attempted a good grope. Rory fell backwards in his haste to get away, much to Janna's amusement. He had never thought his face could get so hot that his ears felt like they might burst into flames.

The nerve...

"Word of advice though," she told him with a leer. "Stop hanging around these losers if you ever want to become something." And with one more wink that set his cheeks aflame anew, she left.

Rory and company just sat or stood where they were for a few precious moments, savouring the blessed quiet. Rory felt like he had just somehow escaped with his life from a raging maelstrom, somehow cheating death. If he could be any more shocked it was nothing like when Rev walked over and offered his hand. Recovering, Rory grabbed the hand and pulled himself up off the floor, brushing himself off as he did. Rev didn't release his hand, but pulled him towards the exit.

"Rev...listen, if we had known..." Porky started then stopped when he realized Rev wouldn't even acknowledge his presence in the room. Rory shrugged when he turned in silent appeal, he had absolutely no idea what was going on in Rev's head. Had he snapped? Rory concentrated and touched the ambiance for a brief instant, just enough to recoil as blinding cold hatred seeped into Rory's consciousness. He slammed a barrier down before his stomach could react and spill his lunch all over Rev.

Rory didn't have to wait long to find out what exactly was going on. Once outside, Rory got pulled into the shadows of the pillars out of earshot of any of the lounging men. Rev's hand was trembling and it was wet with sweat. He turned and Rory very nearly pulled his hand back. It wasn't the pain from the boy's iron grip, but those blue, blue eyes fastened on him in icy rage that stopped him--hot embers of a fury Rory had never seen before smouldered brightly behind them. He felt himself getting sucked into that gaze, his own will getting eclipsed by something so consuming it even touched the elemental ambiance--even though Rory had locked down his second vision it shone like a halo that wrapped and clothed the boy, visible only to one who was sensitive. But to his surprise, it wasn't aimed at Rory. The anger wasn't even directed at himself this time...something in Rev had changed. Rory's eyes widened slowly.

"I..." Rev shook as he spoke, his voice trembling. He struggled for what felt like days as his voice turned hoarse and quiet. When it finally came it was forced out through gritted teeth and with a small tremulous voice that cracked painfully.

Inhale. "I...I need your help."

Rory's heart sang.

Interlude I -- Eastern Provinces: The Town of Eastwatch (pop. 600~)

They came with the dawn. Thirty-six giant floating warships laboured into view of Eastwatch's lonely naval guard tower as the sun broke darkness' grip on the world. The small garrison stationed in the backwater province watched with horror as the massive airships inexorably drew nearer, sunlight flashed off their metal hulls and reflected off polished cannons loaded with death.

Eastwatch's garrisoned officers milled about in confusion. Never had they seen such gigantic airships. Nowhere. Even the Emperor's fleet of ten would have looked like peas beside the floating fortresses. There was no warning, no demand for surrender, no challenge for battle. Dread filled to stiff morning air as citizens and soldiers alike realized the ships rode on the Grim's shoulders, but it was too late to flee. As the sun cleared the horizon, the first puffs of smoke from sea were seen, followed by the screaming angry metal shells that fell in a torrent of hellfire, blowing the thin structural supports of the solitary naval tower and its grossly underpowered cannon into molten metal and kindling, before turning their merciless attention to the surrounding garrison and town.

Screaming dead and the roar of flames surrounded a scorched and battered looking Thiian Captain as he fought desperately to free as many horses as he could before the fire could spread to the stables. He was in his bedclothes with dry soap staking a claim to half his narrow face. A soot-stained lieutenant helped him free the last roan who was screaming in wordless agony as lighted bales tumbled down onto him.

"W...who are they...why are they attacking us?" the lieutenant stammered, beneath the soot his face was pale and drawn, taught with fear.

"RIDE!" he grabbed the lieutenant as if he had not heard the man speak and pushed a saddle into his trembling arms and shoved him towards the nearest horse. Blood ran from both their ears, and the Captain needed to shout to be heard over the concussive blasts, his last desperate plea. "THE EMPEROR MUST BE TOLD. WAR IS AT THE DOOR! NOW RIDE!"


Boom...booom...boom. The cannons only had one monosyllabic answer to the helpless cries from shore. They showed about as much emotion as the crews that operated them--well dressed officers stood behind their bareback sweating gun-crews bellowing a haunting loop of orders.

"Reload! Powder, primer, pack!" Pause. "Load shot! Run her out!" The trundle of wheels. "Steady...steady...and FIRE!"


On the deck of the largest of the attacking ships stood a gaunt man, thin and very tall. The blue tails of his dark overcoat flapped lazily in the slight breeze coming off the great turquoise ocean. In his hands he held an oblong device--a string of glass lenses connected by thick wire mounted on a brass frame. He held the strange device up to his eye towards the shore. When he let the object fall, a slightly shorter man in a similar overcoat saluted sharply at his side; his hand snapped vertically up the side of his face.

"The Pulsifer's shot is falling wide. Bring her up another two-bolt" the tall man snapped, then resumed looking through his glass.

"Haw!" the officer yelled in acknowledgment. He brought a mouth trumpet up to his mouth and was already shouting up the main mast, instructing the signaller with new orders. New flags would be raised, and the Overlord's command relayed to the fleet. Someone yelled back down urgently from the mizzenmast. Out of the corner of his eyes, the Overlord watched as the officer approached again and saluted. "Sir! Tower reports men and women fleeing for the hills to the south."

"So I noticed commandant." The tall man watched as they scurried from their burrows and shacks and scattered up the hill into the forest. Like ants escaping a burning colony. "Very well, order the Valiant and Shrapnel down the coast, six bolts should do. By noon I want those hills flattened and the surrounding forest a human pyre." He said in that same emotionless tone, almost as if he were commenting on the unseasonably cool weather.


The Overlord Renee Deschateaux took one last look at the burning shores before he snapped his strange scope closed, collapsing the lenses together for storage. He turned to another officer on deck, "We're done here. Give the orders."

"Haw!" the trumpet was back at his lips. "All Raiders to drop stations! Ivy will advance and land her troops. Glory and honour in death!" A chorus of voices echoed his last words.

The Overlord was frowning at the twisting pillars of smoke rising in the distance as the great steam engines of his flagship rumbled to life. The first of many beacons had been lit...but would they understand the message? When he spoke it was to himself, quiet so his officers standing around him on the quarterdeck wouldn't overhear. "Now then...what will you do Thiians? Come face me. Come and fight. Come with your armies, come with your swords and your hatred...come and-." There was a loud crack, and pain shot up through his arm. He looked down with his brow drawn and watched blood seep from his hand, a piece of the now broken seeing glass caught in the wound. He smiled and loosened his grip, letting the remaining shards clatter to the deck.

Come and die.

Chapter 5 -- To Err is only Human

The `Mud Pen' was exactly what Jaden imagined when Sergeant Bernweld had told him where they would be resting that night before pressing on to Portios the next day. Portios...home...warm steamy food...dry crawler-free beds...

"I still don't see why we didn't just ride through the night." Jaden muttered beneath his breath. He sat at the crowded bar on a stool a smidgen too high for him, as a result his legs dangled and he felt like a child again--not a feeling that really brightened his already grey mood. Where was Bernweld when he needed someone to complain to? He had escaped somewhere while Jaden was occupied with his drink and was now flanked by strangers. The air was rank with their scent.

At first glance the shabby log house had looked more like a road-house than a proper Inn and Tavern, but as night had donned his cloak over the sky, the commons had filled, big brawny miners from the looks of them. Bernweld had taken one look at them and had ordered his men not to start anything they couldn't finish by themselves. The miners' earthy sent filled Jaden's nostrils while their country drawl rattled in his ears unceasingly. His finger dragged trails of condensation across the bar in complicated patterns as he nurtured what was almost passably called was bitter and sour on his tongue...somehow it suited him just fine. Now if only Bernweld were around...

For a while, Jaden had felt his seat-mate's attention drawn to him, but he seemed content to just watch, so Jaden hadn't said anything. That changed when the man heard his mutters.

"Heading into Portios Pass on the `morrow?" the short hunched man asked. Jaden turned to eye the man, but his cloak hung over most of his face covering it with shadows the flickering torchlight couldn't pierce. He felt wrong, out of place in the company of all the burly miners, most with bare chests and bald heads.

"And what are you? The local five-fingers?" Jaden blurted, wishing the man would leave him alone.

Instead of anger as Jaden had intended to provoke, the man chuckled--it was high-pitched and bordered dangerously on cackling. The man swivelled, and for a moment Jaden caught sight of one of his glittering eyes beneath his deep hood that looked black in the shadows. "I get that a lot `round here. I like you lad!" he said loudly, the rancid smell of spirits drifting out from under his hood to assault Jaden's nose. He slapped the bar loudly, his long spindly fingers caught the bartender's attention quickly. "Another round for me an' the laddy!"

The bartender sauntered over in his dirty white apron and reached under the counter, he pulled a large earthenware jug out and set it down in front of the stranger and growled, "Lets see some coins first, huh?"

From out of the stranger's sleeve clattered several mismatched coppers, the stranger had barely moved his arm. Alarm bells were going off in Jaden's head and his muscles tensed. He wondered what else was stuck up the man's sleeve. A stiletto or simple throwing knife wouldn't be impossible. Jaden momentarily relaxed as another mug brimming with the bitter ale touched down in front of him, sloshing a good portion of the foam onto the bar, obliterating most of Jaden's hard work. Jaden was torn between scowling some more and taking another swallow.

"Seen lots `o people pass through here I have. Travel a bit meself, here and there y'understand. Ain't never seen someone like you here though!" The stranger had to pause as he took a long drought. He slammed the mug back down on the bar and sighed happily as froth spilled over onto his fingers, "A'course, I admint I ain't one to frequent places you yerself might take a liken too. But then we cannot all be little princes..." The stranger trailed off and chuckled again to himself.

Jaden felt a twinge of annoyance twist his lips. Words, words and more words. Why didn't people just fucking say what they meant? This whole concept of talking like a feather floating in the wind with slick subtleties and meanings within meanings was too much for Jaden. He had never been good at that, much to his Father's often embarrassment. `Say what you mean or don't say anything at all'. That was the first tenant Jaden drilled into any man that served under him. "If you know who I am thief, then be glad, honour will be satisfied if I don't take the time to introduce myself before I relieve your frail body from its most burdensome head." Jaden tried to match the stranger's actions by downing half his ale with one gulp, he had to stop when his throat protested, coughing and sending bubbles up into his nose.

Laughing loudly the stranger finished his ale with another long swallow. "Ah, you be mistakening me fer some run `o the mill hooligan eh? Ah, that's al'right, its al'right. Doesn't bother me in the least." He was nodding to himself now, Jaden concluded the man was mad. "Y'are certainly entitled to yer opinions and me mine. Jus' like I mighten be deciding that I don' be wanting to pass on a little tidbit of information ye might be finding interest of."

Harsh words curdled unsaid on Jaden's tongue as he ran silently through his list of curses...most of which he had picked up from Bernweld. The battle between dislike of the petty thief and curiosity was short lived, if the man knew who he was, the stranger was obviously well connected in the spider's web of underground information trade. Leave it to them to find out about Jaden's supposed secret mission. Jaden compromised by grunting, both in anger and consent. His fingers, slightly numb, slipped into his money belt and extracted several gold coins. He laid them on the table with his hand covering them.

"Talk first, I don't want slippery fingers getting the wrong idea."

The man's hood turned to watch the gold's under Jaden's hand, then he shrugged his shoulders. His cackling laughter was an insult to Jaden's ears and rang foul; there was a strange note in it this time, one that made him want to shift uncomfortably on his seat. "I be thinking you misunderstood me laddy. What I have cannot be bought with grease and a bit `o shine, if ye catch me meaning."

"Then don't waste my time." Jaden said then snorted and tried to withdraw his hand, but the stranger was faster, his long white fingers caught his wrist and held his hand fast, his blue veined hands pulsing with what Jaden felt was an odd urgency. Jaden tried to wrench his arm from the man's grip but he stuck fast, the thin hand was like a vice--inexorably it tightened.

"Wait now...just be waiting laddy. I ain't not finished yet. No need to be hasty." His cowled head glanced from side to side, as if worried the noisy patrons on their sides might be listening...but they were safe in the clamour of voices. For the first time since he had sat down, the stranger turned directly to speak with Jaden, the torchlight finally revealing his face.

Jaden shuddered at what he saw. The man's face was a shade of brilliant white and under the cowl he could see no hair only a large bald forehead streaked with blue veins which protruded from under his paper-like skin and looked in no way human. Especially his eyes! It was his eyes that caused Jaden's quick intake of breath, his heart increasing its pace. They were white...but not just white outside, but his pupils were white as well. All Jaden could see were small black round rings of his cornea, they stared into Jaden's eyes and he was suddenly reminded of Sivig's all black had to be some sort of coincidence...

Jaden's wrist throbbed as the man spoke. "I be havin' urgent news. Urgent, mind ye! It must be reachin' the ears `o someone of import, all I ask in return, is that ye keep me alive for as long as it takes. Take me to yer father, and I be your man the rest `o me life. Its all I ask...I beg you" Jaden grimaced as the man's voice trembled, whether from fury, dedication, or fear, Jaden could only guess. Jaden looked deep into the man's eyes once more, what he saw impressed him. He felt surprised himself...for he believed this man...the stranger's eyes made him want to believe him--fanatically so. They shone like stars, they spoke without words, emotions bared. If this was acting, the man was most assuredly in the wrong career path.

"Tell me, does this have something to do with Sivig?" Jaden asked, a sharp edge hardening his voice.

"I...I cannot...not here..." he replied quietly, a note of apology in his unsteady slurred drawl. His hand relaxed enough that Jaden could steal his wrist back, he rubbed the long red marks warily.

A vein of fear was pulsing in time with his beating heart somewhere in his body. The feeling was unnatural, fear and anxiety had never had such a grasp on him as on this night...of all nights. Just when home was nearing. Damn the traitorous Sivig and his plots against the empire! DAMN HIM! All he wanted was to go home and see his family...he had not seen them in a long time. Too long.

A loud ungainly voice broke the silence, and Jaden jerked his eyes away before he got lost in the swirling emotions. "THERE YOU ARE! I'VE BEEN BLOODY LOOKING EVERYWHERE..." Jaden was on his feet, cutting off Bernweld's loud oafish protests with a quick signal only a swordsman of the sixth tier would recognize--a signal of challenge. The clouds cleared over the large man's head instantly, his eyes widened and he quickly indicated his withdrawal and submission from the challenge.

Even through the fear a glimmer of triumph was already breaking through. "Good timing Bernweld, where are the men?"

"By the stables about to bed down. I wanted to..."

"Get them up Sergeant and saddle the mounts," Jaden glanced sideways at the stranger who had risen from his stool, his cloak again hiding his features in dark obscurity, the unasked question hung in the air.

"Alas, me horse be no more among the living..." he said, his voice still heavy from the drink. Bernweld was eyeing the stranger, making no secret of his dislike for the hooded figure underneath his great frown.

Urgent indeed if he had ridden his horse to death! Jaden felt his mind clearing as blood pulsed through his body, sharpening every sound, every scope of his vision. He adjusted his short-sword at his waist so it hung within ease of grasp. "As well as an extra." He held up his hand when Bernweld's mouth opened in protest. "NOW SERGEANT! We ride on for Portios with no time to waste. Make haste!"


Time had no more meaning for Rory, not when he finally felt he had a task that only he could do. It was to be Rev's first lesson today, he had asked the boy to gather the necessary tools they would need before dawn, so no-one would inquire why Rev, who was banned from sparring with other swordsmen, would need such equipment.

Rory sat beside Disel, to Sir Edmund's right. He was shovelling the hot, moist oatmeal down his throat as fast as he dared without choking. Rory didn't taste any of the meal though, he was too busy planning exactly what he would do to try and break Rev before he rebuilt from a more solid foundation. His mind kept wandering in might be that the only solution would be to use that. Rory was weighing the positives and the negatives as he ate.

"I've heard of eating quickly Rory, and I've certainly seen some fast ones in my time...but that porridge of yours that you insist on having will still be warm whether you take a few moments to eat, or a quarter of the morning." Lady Worchester was what Rory had always imagined a classic sort of beauty to look like. She wasn't tall at all, but her presence towered over even her husband's at the long glossy table, set only with places at one end. Her majestic blue eyes were always full of passion for everything she said and did, and only seemed to emphasize her locks of long blonde hair, tied tastefully up behind her head. How she managed to have her hair so tidy made Rory wonder how early she had risen with her maids.

Rory paused, his spoon half-way to his mouth and swallowed hard, he felt his ears flush under her gaze, "Sorry ma'am, force of habit. When you grow up with two older brothers, you learn to eat quickly or you starve."

Lady Edmund's lips spread in a wide smile, conveying her amusement and understanding. "You seem different as of late. Are you finally getting used to the manor?" Her hands worked delicately as she sawed through one of her breakfast sausages, eating only the smallest of pieces at a time.

"Yes ma'am, I suppose I am. I'm heading over to the stables today...I met someone very interesting the other day. Well...interesting for a Thiian I suppose." Edmund's wife blinked several times, but if she was offended, she didn't let it infect her warm smile. She turned to her husband, who had just dismissed the bulky advisor who was dragging rolls of parchment away with him.

Edmund sighed and prodded his food, "Ah, the Emperor sure makes a fuss when I come here for a rest. Sends me twenty rolls of vellum for everyday that I'm away, the spiteful old bastard."

"My Lord!" Lady Edmund muttered reproachfully, "You're lucky he's away or he'd be throwing a steel gauntlet through your breakfast." Sir Edmund was in the middle of one of his sausages and didn't reply, although Rory thought he caught a wince as the man chewed. "And by and by, don't you have anything for Rory to do? Hanging out in the stables is not exactly what you had in mind was it dearest?"

Edmund took a swig of a light morning beer to wash the remains of his breakfast down. He shot Rory a knowing look, then shrugged at his wife. "What should I do, ban him from the stables? Rory was a horseman back in his homeland, I'm not about to keep him shut in his room. Besides, we can't do anything else with him until he gets home."

Rory had stopped eating; his narrowed eyes found Sir Edmund's. The man was laughing at him! They always did this at meals, make vague references to some person who would not be returning for months yet, but someone who was to play some sort of integral part in Rory's future. The expectation was like an itch that no matter how hard he tried he couldn't scratch. Rory did the next best thing, he tried to ignore it.

"Is a horseman like a Bern'alad, in your tongue?" Rory asked instead, resisting the urge to ask the expected question.

Edmund looked up, "No, not quite lad. Our horsemen are nothing like the lonely riders of the North. Will this be your first visit to the stables? Or have you been there before?" His mouth full, Rory stuck up his index finger. "First time eh? Well, do me a favour and tell old Winthrop there that I sent you, I'm sure he'll be thrilled to have some more help. You won't miss him, he's the hostler there, got a great scar down one side of his face, with only one eye. You should ask him to tell you that story too, its one of the betters I've heard."

Rory grinned and set his spoon back onto his plate. A watchful maid was already beside him, clearing his dishes. It startled him. In the North you took care of your own plate. Rory still hadn't acclimatized to all these strange Thiian traditions. "May I go now then?" Rory was about to rise, but a small hand restrained him. Disel was blushing furiously as she looked in silent appeal to her mother.

"Oh yes, I'd forgotten!" Lady Edmund said, she raised her eyebrows at her daughter. Disel was rummaging around in a small bag on her lap, after a short search she looked back at Rory.

"You can't laugh!" she said solemnly. "If you do I'll take it back, and your ears will freeze come winter!" Her hands were partially hiding something within their small grasp. Curious, Rory was quick to assure her just as solemnly that he would never laugh at something that was so important.

With a deep breath, Disel unfolded the most unusual piece of knitting he had ever seen. She handed it to him with a grimace, and for a moment, Rory couldn't quite figure out what exactly it was supposed to be.

"A hat!" Rory exclaimed too loudly, his lips creasing in a smile that came easily to his lips. It was red and slightly lopsided and very thick, with small round earflaps and string to tie under his chin. In some parts the stitches were loose and uneven, but Rory donned it right away and enfolded the squirming girl in a quick hug. "Why its absolutely marvellous! I shan't need to worry about losing my ears come winter. Thank you!"

"I know its bad, but I did the best I could..." Disel said apologetically, throwing her mother a murderous glare when she noticed the older woman was hiding a grin politely behind her hand. "I tried making mittens but...mother said I should work on my embroidering before I did that."

"Embroidering is more lady-like darling. You could always let the maids make mittens..."

The wool was soft on his ears, not itchy like he had feared it might be. The gift made his insides suddenly warm. It wasn't as if the hat was anything to brag about, but the idea behind it, and all of her hard work made it one of the best gifts he had ever received in his life. Disel was flushing from Rory's exuberant reactions. When she and her mother finally left the table to go to her lessons, she was grinning ear to ear none the less, pleased that her gift had been such a success.

Although Rory desperately wanted to head off to the stables right away, he got a slight prickling feeling on his arms that made him stay at the table. Just as Lord Edmund was finishing his meal, an official looking page opened the door. He took a step inside the ornate wooden doorway and flourished a bow. Shivers ran up and down Rory's arms and the elemental ambiance shivered right along with him. Something was wrong. For weeks Rory hadn't felt the slightest ripple in the elemental plane, Lord Edmund seemed not to employ men and women who might disturb the ambiance, whether by chance or by design Rory wasn't sure.

"M'Lord the emissaries from the eastern Elementalist Coalition have arrived to see you. They await your pleasure, although they claim their time is pressed."

Rory's head jerked upwards. Elementalist Coalition? His father had once mentioned something of the like...Thiians felt the need to register powerful men who could touch the elemental plane. It was yet another thing the North would never stand for. Men should be free, not tied by invisible ropes.

"M'Lord?" The page essayed again. Lord Edmund seemed to be lost in thought. At the page's summons he wrenched himself back to the present.

"What? Oh, of course. Give me time to get to my study in Eastwing, then bring them to me." Edmund sighed and stared daggers after the retreating page, his nose crinkled like he had just caught a good whiff of a skunk or something that smelled equally distasteful. Edmund turned and his eyes found Rory's, a faint smile graced his stark features before it was gone.

"Well, be off with you! I'm sure you have more exciting things to do than sit and treat with magisters." He stood and took his exit, grabbing his velvet cloak from a peg by the door on his way out and throwing it over his shoulders. It was only the second time Rory had ever seen the man angry...although he hid it well.

Rory opened his mouth to speak then closed it as the door thumped gently in Lord Edmund's wake. Should he have said something? It wasn't often that the plane and Rory's sensitivities plagued him like they were now. The whole room seemed to shake and shivers were running up and down his arms as if he were in a cool brisk breeze, setting gooseflesh aflare.

The feeling seemed to chase him wherever he went. He strode briskly off down the corridor, passing ignorant servants busy with the days' cleaning routine--dusting statues, mopping marble floors, emptying chamber pots--Rory also passed several green kilted swordsman like Janna--he had asked Sir Edmund about that earlier--it was his house guard's colour. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary...but he had never in his life felt such strange ripples. Normally the only ripples in the ambiance were gentle ones, stirred by base human emotions and desires--Rev was good example: The boy excelled at shaking the ambiance with his quick volcano-like temper. This feeling was different though, but Rory dared not investigate, he would need somewhere private to do that sort of work. Even then, he might accidentally give himself away, especially if there were other sensitives nearby.

The stables were located on the town side of the sprawling manor estate. To get there Rory's steps took him out into the main reception foyer. It was filled at this time of the morning with all sorts of people from many of the walks of life that filled Portios. There were black-clad slavers sometimes accompanied by chained men and women, haunted looks filling their eyes. Merchants in rainbows of colour marched up and down the hall, asserting their rights to sell to Sir Edmund's household. Peasants and farmers also seemed to have a place, they were lined up to one side of the hall, waiting for the morning's appeals to Sir Edmund's courts no doubt--petty disputes about land, grazing rights, Edmund's house took care of them all--Rory had his doubts about whether Sir Edmund even heard about half the disputes, Thiians had a way of avoiding unpleasant responsibilities...even Sir Edmund, who Rory thought was rather respectable for a Thiian, did it.

Rory had to be especially fleet of foot to navigate his way through the humming press, several times he was almost knocked over by fast moving merchants or scribes carrying stacks of paper, but not entirely unexpectedly they all took one look at his hair, then his bright yellow kilt and hastily bowed and practically leaped through the next opening in the crowd to escape the strange Northman.

"That boy...but it couldn't be... Edmund would have had to report him to the Emperor's court." A croaky voice filled his ears suddenly from behind, and Rory turned to face two men in purple robes, a simple silver circle emblazoned on their chests. They looked almost identical, save the one Rory presumed to have spoken had only a ring of hair topped by shining skin, both had thick, luxurious oiled beards that drooped beneath their chins in oiled locks.

"There see? See how he pales. He can feel us." The balding man said excitedly.

"Don't be rude Dethser," the second replied, a sharp edge to his kindly voice. He raised one bushy eyebrow at Rory's hair and his get-up and his voice softened. "Who'd have thought we'd meet a Northman here! What's your name boy?" Rory tried not to shy away from the glare...but his insides were a mess; his stomach was twisting unpleasantly and he felt like hurling his meal at the Elementalists' feet. But these men weren't the source of Rory original discomfort...the ripples in the elemental plane. The urge to take a peek at them in the plane was almost overwhelming, as it was with all men with the gift. If Rory had been in the North they would have been sizing each other up already, meeting strength with strength until they were satisfied knowing who was the stronger, but an oath he had taken long ago prevented him from doing so now with these Thiians. Rory tried to calm his insides. He bowed, well...half-bowed...his back didn't seem to want to bend quite right. The balding man looked slightly annoyed, his lips pursed with disapproval, and appeared that he wanted to strangle Rory, the other looked on, impassive.

"Good day Sirs," Rory said tentatively, unsure of how he could extricate himself from this mess. "They call me Rory Sirs, is something wrong?" His mind was still whirling, if these elementalists weren't the source of his unease then what was? The feelings seemed to intensify with each passing moment, as if whatever it was, it drew nearer with every passing moment.

"Needs some manners..." the bald one started, but he was hushed with a glance from his companion.

"Good day to you as well, Rory is it? Odd name that one. Never been to the North myself, they don't like us up there. Imagine my surprise when I had heard that Sir Edmund recently personally went to purchase a Northman slave, but to be frank I thought it was hearsay, peasant's gossip. Now that I find proof however, I find myself intrigued." The man took a step forwards; his hand strayed to his beard without thought, stroking it as he examined Rory closely. Rory tried not to sway as the man took not just a look at him, but probed him in the plane as well, it took a huge amount of willpower to resist the urge to swat those prying, invasive fingers which pulled and tugged at his very existence. His stomach did a couple front flips before the man released his beard.

After a tense moment where Rory was sure they had discovered him, the man sighed and turned back to his companion. "No, you were wrong. Not sensitive at all. That should have sent him to the floor screaming if he was."

"He's hiding it then! I'm sure I felt him touch the plane when he saw us! I'm sure Ephram! Let me have a go...I'll prove it." The man took a zealous step forwards.

"Desther..." the second man's voice plied with patience, he stopped the man in his tracks. "We shall be late for our audience." He turned and nodded to Rory, "It was a pleasure young man, please forgive us, you must think us mad talking about all these strange things. Prey, forgive us." With his hand firmly pulling Desther along, Ephram started up the crowded hall, but not before Desther had turned back and sent Rory a chilling glare--one that gave Rory a sense of foreboding and the promise that he had not seen the last of the strange balding elementalist.


"A Northman...a real Northman in my stables. Well I'll be a rotting bag of produce. Who'd have thought you'd show up here!" The old Hostler stared at his red hair muttering to himself, a sense of awe filled his broad face. He had gained Rory's affection as soon as he had laid eyes on the man's heavily scarred face. Rory had to restrain himself from demanding to know exactly how Winthrop had earned such a deep and fiery scar. That wasn't the real reason he was here. Although now he wished he was.

"Actually, I know we've just met, but I wanted to ask you a favour." Rory said quickly, interrupting the man's inner monologue.

"Favour?" The man's eyes darkened, but only briefly before he shook his head. "Depends what sort of favour this mighten be."

Rory took a deep breath, "Two things actually. I want to borrow Rev until noon."

Winthrop's eyes narrowed and he pulled a strand of straw out of the feed cages absently, sticking in the corner of his mouth. "That brat? He's useless with swords, and just as useless with horses. What in the four mounts do you want with him?"

"I can't tell you...and...if you could keep this a secret from anybody else it would sure mean a lot." Rory watched the man carefully, wary for the first sign of an explosion, but his fears were in vain. Winthrop grinned and spat the straw back onto the floor.

"Don't ask for much do ya?" He chuckled quietly. "OK, I'll play your little game. If Sir Edmund trusts ya, I guess I mighten as well." Rory grinned, but the hostler hadn't finished. "But fair's fair boy, I scratch your back you scratch mine."

Rory frowned. "Your...back itches?" What an odd request. Rory's back was fine the way it was. He told the hostler as much. Winthrop blinked for a while before he drew another piece of straw and stuck it into the side of his mouth, shaking his head.

" That's not what...Never mind. What I meant was, I'll let you have Rev in a little while, if you'll help me a bit."

Rory scrunched his forehead. "Then why didn't you say that in the first place?"

The hostler opened his mouth to answer, then thought better of it. He chewed thoughtfully on the piece of straw before he walked over and grabbed Rory's arm and pulled him deeper into the dim stable. "Right, just what I need. Two kids who think they're Thefrir reborn and stubborn as bedrock." Rory couldn't help but grin at the man's indignation. Thiians were a lot of fun once you knew which strings to pull. "You're one of them lone horsemen ain't ya?" Winthrop continued pleasantly as they passed stall after stall in the cavernous building.

Rory took the time to take a measure of Winthrop's face before he answered. He was looking for some sort of deception or plot the man might have...but his face held only a native curiosity if anything at al l. "I was Bern'alad if that was your question. `Lone Horseman' is as good a description as any I've been given I suppose." Rory, paused briefly as he remembered some of the names they used to call him back home, "...and more flattering than most."

Winthrop stopped and his hand dropped away. He nodded to himself as if Rory had just confirmed something. "Knew it I did! Usually the horses go wild when they catch a new scent, I ain't heard one of these beast utter a sound." As he spoke he walked up to an empty stall where a thin tremulous voice was keeping a steady stream of curses going. He peered into it as did Rory. Both started laughing at the same time. Sitting on the ground in breeches and a brown leather smock was Rev. Right in the middle of a pile of... Rory hastily tried to memorize as many of the curses Rev was going through. It was a long and detailed list that started to include both Rory and Winthrop and just what exactly they could do with themselves and their laughter.

When Winthrop finally could control his breathing again he fixed Rev with a stern glare. "Alright you useless lout, get yourself outside and cleaned off. Jake will have some clean britches for ya." Still shaking his head he moved on, Rory on his heels. "Of all the useless help to send me...I heard he's being punished for something but he won't tell me a word of course, the little savage. Got lots of other things to tell me though, none of them fit for a lady's ears." He said with a grimace. "It's more like punishment for the both of us if you ask me. I get less done around here with him helping anyways. You'll be doing me a favour to take him off my hands at any rate. Bloody brat. I mean, can you believe it? A kid like that afraid of horses."

Rory couldn't help grinning at his words. So...Rev had other problems as well. What a strange kid. "So...what did you want me to do exactly? Nothing like cleaning stables I hope." Rory crinkled his nose at the thought.

Winthrop laughed as he caught sight of Rory's expression. Then he shrugged and pointed to an inconspicuous looking stall and stopped in front of it. "Actually, I need some help with her. Something's wrong and she won't let me near her. That's lady Worchester's horse, and I'm at a loss to explain what's gotten into her. I've tried every trick in the book, but she's as skittish as a mule and about thrice as stubborn. I've heard tales though..." Winthrop trailed off, looking a little sheepish. "Well, I heard you folk were a mighten better with horses than normal folk. I'd be obliged if you might have a look."

So even Winthrop had `heard stories' about him already? Rory had half a heart to ask exactly where he had heard such things. Someone was spreading rumours about him, and they were getting too close to the truth. Rory took a step forward towards the stall. The mare, her brown coat sleek with sweat, nickered uncertainly at his approach. Rory met her eye with a steady and firm stare of his own. "There lady, I don't mean any harm." He reached out with his hand slowly and let her snuffle it curiously. She whinnied this time around and bunted it. Rory quickly undid the latch and slid inside the stall, closing the door behind him. He scratched her forehead and just let her get used to his smell for a while.

"Well I'll be!" Winthrop hadn't moved an inch since he had stopped. He just stared at Rory with wide eyes, one wider than the other due to his scar. "I tried that this morning and she nearly killed me."

Rory grinned and didn't mention his other talent that might be viewed as cheating in the old hostler's mind. Rory's attention turned back to the mare. She was snuffling and whuffing happily enough as he scratched her, but something was definitely not right. He moved to her side and ran a hand down her sweat-soaked flank. He prodded and felt around a bit...but there didn't seem to be anything obviously wrong with her. Time to cheat again. He opened his barrier just a touch, not enough to alert any other sensitives, and sent a reassuring and calming surge towards the mare. Then he delicately extended his probe, trying not to scare her. If he had done this to a human, they would know...but animals weren't the same. He could probe and feel the animal without them feeling pain. To a human it would feel like a red hot iron swirling around in their innards. Not exactly the most pleasant feeling one would normally wish for.

Rory's eyes widened with shock at what he sensed. He paused and made certain about what he was feeling before he turned and grinned at the hostler. Rory patted the mare one more time and earned a contented whinny before he jumped over the stall rail and back to face the bewildered hostler. "Does she have a name?"

"What? Oh, yea of course. Her name's Gwen." The Hostler's eyes were set on him and his frown was one more of disbelief than disproval. He was...jealous. No sense beating around the bush. Rory walked down a couple of stalls before he stopped in front of a huge black stallion. His presence felt vaguely familiar. A perfect match. A warhorse if he ever saw one. It bared its teeth and tried to snap at Rory when he neared. Winthrop was beside him, as confused as ever.

Rory pointed, deliberately just out of the lippy stallion's reach. "And this one? What's his name?"

It took a moment, but the piece of straw Winthrop had been chewing finally fell limply to the floor. He spoke in a gasp. "No... impossible! She's not showing at all yet...I checked!" Uncertain pause. "How do you know?"

Rory grinned and turned from the old hostler and left him with his thoughts and his curses.

"Know? Know what?"

He found Rev back near the entrance. The boy had changed into a ratty set of britches that had holes over his protruding knees. He stood facing one of the many stalls his hand outstretched tentatively towards a towering gelding. The black horse snorted with contempt at the boy's shaking hand and shied away.

"Now that was a mighty poor first impression to give someone."

Startled, Rev jumped backwards, lowering his hand. His powerful scowl turned to confront his accuser and faltered when he glimpsed Rory's freckled face grinning at him. "I didn't see you there. What's the big idea sneaking up on me like that?"

"Sneaking?" Rory snorted and tromped loudly up to the gelding and rubbed his forehead. The gelding whuffed once and then allowed himself to enjoy the rub, his eye rolled over to watch Rev warily. "I don't sneak anywhere. I made as much noise as I possibly could without breaking the floorboards, you were just too occupied to notice anything. What were you doing, if I may ask?"

"I need to move him," he said, pointing at the gelding accusingly. "But he's not very friendly..."

It was Rory's turn to roll his eyes. He turned back and grinned at the gelding who looked about as threatening to Rory as a flower might ever look. "You're not so scary are you fellow?" The gelding bunted his hand playfully when the fingers stopped scratching his forehead.

"Well, if you're quite satisfied making fun of me, could you move him down there?" Rev said, pointing to the stall he had just finished cleaning out. "I'm done after this so the faster you do..." Rev's mouth snapped shut when he caught a look at Rory's face. Rory arched his eyebrows and shook his head.

"Oh no. Uh uh. Not a chance. You move him. Consider this lesson one." Rory walked and grabbed Rev's shoulders and looked him in the eye. "You know what I heard from master Winthrop over there?" Rory said, pointing down the row to the hunched man who was rubbing his head and contemplating the big black stallion, his words were all a jumble as he muttered loudly to himself. "I hear you're afraid of horses. You? I couldn't believe it! I mean, I can't believe you're afraid of horses. How are you supposed to become of swordsman if you become terrified of your partner? That's just what a horse is, not just an animal, but your partner. If you're lucky and your horse likes you, he'll be more faithful than most men you'll meet in life."

A dark red suffused Rev's cheeks. "Shut up! I'm not scared of horses, they just don't like me much, that's all."

Rory had already considered that possibility before, but had discarded it out of hand. He had never met a person who could not get along with a horse if they would just apply themselves. Rory stuck out his hand to Rev. Rev nearly leaped backwards with surprise, then he just eyed the proffered hand suspiciously. "C'mon Rev, grab it. Shake my hand like we've just met."

"Why should I have to...?" Rev's face had turned sullen, the anger that usually graced his eyes was starting to kindle.

"Just do it." Rory said as firmly as he dared, hoping Rev wouldn't shut him out again. Luckily, his determination hadn't faded since their last meeting. Rev said something beneath his breath that sounded to Rory's sharp ears like "Northmen" before he grabbed the hand and shook it firmly. Rory tightened his grip so the boy couldn't pull back.

"There now that wasn't so hard was it? It you acted like that when you first met a horse, they'd like you a lot better."

Rev pulled his hand back as if scalded. He rubbed it thoughtfully, his mind working it out. "That's good advice...if horses had bloody hands." He said finally, missing Rory's point completely.

"You rock-head. Putting out your hand for a horse to smell is exactly the same idea. How comfortable would you be around someone who shook your hand with a clammy and trembling grip like that? If it were me I'd think I was shaking some urine smelling coward's hand, and I wouldn't like that person no matter what they were really like. Its true with people and especially true with animals, a first impression and a scent is everything!"

Rev stared back blankly for a moment and Rory had to resist the urge to duck under the nearest stack of hay bales and avoid the lightning bolts that were sure to follow. To his surprise, Rev just turned and walked back towards the gelding, holding out his arm like Rory had. This time Rev didn't blink, he just stubbornly stared at the gelding with eyes of icy-fire. Rory could almost feel the adrenaline pulsing through the boy as he stared the gelding down.

The gelding snorted contemptuously at first to the offered hand, but when the horse realized Rev wasn't going anywhere he snorted in annoyance and reluctantly took a sniff of the boy's hand. He whuffed peaceably enough, dipping his head a fraction to Rev. Rory stepped up beside him and put a hand behind the gaping swordsman's neck and shoved him forwards.

"Go on, touch his head now, let him get used to your scent." Rev hesitantly stroked between the gelding's eyes and down his head. The gelding, forgetting his initial wariness, bunted his hand and tried to lift his head to nibble on the scratching fingers. Rory quickly grabbed Rev's hand as he tried to jerk it back and put it firmly back on the horse's snout. "And no jerky movements. Animals get frightened easily when it comes to dealing with humans...remember that. And don't freak out when a horse tries to nibble your fingers," Rory said and released Rev's hand, which to his surprise was only mildly sweaty. "You should be flattered! A horse's bite is actually a sign of affection, not one of malice. If a horse is ever mad at you..."

"What? What will it do?" Rev asked quickly, trying to avoid letting the horse get a handle on his fingers. Annoyed, Rev pushed the horses head away as its big tongue snaked out to try and sneak a taste of the swordsman's hair.

"A variety of things I guess, he'll rear up on his hind legs as a warning. But if a horse is ever beyond angry, he'll kick you good and hard...and believe me...those legs of his won't just hurt, they'll maim. But don't worry," Rory had to say quickly, as Rev's face was rapidly draining of colour, "contrary to what you may believe, a horse is not a creature of malice. They're clever and deserve your respect, but you need to be firm with them or they'll go wild and never listen to you. Be watchful, but never timid. That's a good rule to always use around horses...especially a stallion. Mares and geldings you don't need to be as cautious with, easier to break in and they won't fight with you as much." As he spoke about horses Rory's mind again began to drift through a sea of memories. He remembered well the first time he had ridden a stallion. It was a great black one, with a diamond shaped spot of white on its forehead. Windbreaker they had named him, Rory hadn't understood the name until he managed to convince the stallion to sprint. He would never forget that feeling of helplessness as the wind tried to tear the hair from his head and the ground rushed past all in a blur beneath Windbreaker's pounding hooves. At that moment, he had felt like he could fly.

Rory was brought back to the present as Rev led the large warhorse out of the stall. He was shooting Rory an unreadable look in between fending off the gelding's inquisitive tongue, and Rory blushed as he realised he had been staring off into nowhere, lost in thought. A cramp of longing was in his stomach again, but he tried to ignore it...focus on something other than himself. It was too painful to remember any longer--to remember home. Rory followed Rev's path down the row to the stall he had cleaned out earlier that day.

"You talk like you know a lot of stuff." Rev said as he closed the door and brushed past Rory on his way back to the dirty stall. He grabbed a nearby wheelbarrow and shovel and trudged back to the open stall, a grimace never far from his lips. "So where on the four mounts did you manage to find that ugly rag you're wearing?" He said as he entered the stall and shoved his shovel into the muck and soiled hay with a splurch. Rory glanced down at the dull yellow swordsman kilt he wore and the matching black and deep yellow top he wore.

"Sir Edmund lent them to me. He said they used to be his when he was small. He said I could have them when I complained all I had were fancy clothes I couldn't dirty." Rory could still picture the wide smile underneath that great white moustache of Edmund's as he stood tall beneath Rory's squall of complaints. Rev just grunted as he threw another shovel-full of the muck into the `barrow. He was panting slightly and beginning to work up a sweat. Rory jumped up on the stall door out of the way and just watched as the boy efficiently cleaned out the stall. From the way he worked, Rory gained the sneaking suspicion that Rev had been doing a great deal of work in the stables as of late.

A sudden thought occurred to Rory as he looked on. "Did you manage to find all the stuff I asked for?"

Rev sighed in between breaths and looked up with a scowl. "Are you just going to sit there and keep bothering me? Or would you get off you're ass and help me?"

"Answer my question, and I'll think about it." Rory replied with a quirk of his lips.

Rev shoved the shovel back into the muck. "Yea, `course I did. I said I'd do it so I did. I hid it all around the back of the stables behind the wall of pines, should be safe enough there. Now get down and help me."

Rory spread his arms wide for balance and rolled backwards, with a whip-like motion in his hips, he landed nimbly on his feet outside the stall and started to walk away. Rev's quick footsteps headed for the stall opening. "Hey, you said..."

"I said I'd think about it," Rory cut in, he turned and winked back at Rev, pretending to scrunch his forehead in deep thought. "I'll think real hard, don't you worry. Just think of it as part of your training!" Rev's curses chased him from the stables.

By the time Rev had finished and joined him behind the stables, the sun was well up into the eastern sky. The tunic Edmund had given him was already sticking to his chest and back even though he hadn't been doing much of anything aside from waiting. Rev stood in front of him, sword lowered a look of pure scorn set on his lowered brow.

"I'm not wearing it...I thought it was for you! That's why I brought it." Rev said, pointing accusingly at the thick leather padding.

Rory grinned, he had ignored the other sword Rev had brought along and instead had picked up a long piece of wood, a `long staff' Rev had called it with a sneer. "That's fine, I won't be needing it...the way you are now...a Northman not even out of diapers could defeat you."

Rev brought the blunted practice sword up, he glared suspiciously at Rory, waiting. Rory just stood at ease, one end of the long stave stuck in the ground so he could lean on it. "Well?" Rev said, impatience making his voice crack slightly. "Is my form OK?"

Rory blinked several times before he looked Rev up and down. His legs were spread and bent, distributing his weight evenly across his lithe frame. The sword he held at the ready, pointing slightly below Rory's feet, his outstretched arm locked. Rory took all that in before he spoke. "How the hell should I know? If you ask me you could be doing anything with a stance like that. Dance for one...the same two step jig...over and over...and over..." Rory stopped when Rev's face coloured.

"'re...making fun of me." He said through gritted teeth.

Rory hunched around the stave and grinned at his annoyed pupil. "Not at all. I really couldn't tell the difference between your stance and a dance...I'm no expert in either one!"

The moment Rory had been waiting for arrived. Rev relaxed slightly, his anger overriding his alert stance. He threw up his sword in supplication, "Then why did you say you could help me you stupid..."

Rory whirled as he moved forwards, bringing the stave up as he came on. The Stave whistled as it passed through the air not a hands breadth away from Rev's wide blue eyes. His hands froze as the underside of his chin was raised forcefully by the end of Rory's staff. "I'll ignore that last comment." Rory said cheerfully, his arms taught as he held the longstaff beneath Rev's thin neck. "I never said I would help you fight like a Thiian. I told you, in not so many words, that I could help you with your problem. Right now your problem has nothing to do with Thiian techniques and forms. Its this that's the problem." As Rory finished he eased the staff back to its neutral position on the ground and stepped forwards, putting a finger to Rev's chest. "They taught you how to think like a Thiian and a swordsman, and now I'll teach you how to fight like men were born to fight."

Rev looked on the verge of walking off. His posture was stiff, and for all Rory knew he was still frozen from having a stick a hairsbreadth from crushing his throat. Rory took two steps back and began his planned performance. His arms flexed and the longstaff whizzed through the air towards Rev's head. That snapped Rev's attention to Rory, his sword came up in a blur of dull grey iron.

"Hey what the hell?" Rev protested, his arms shivering with the impact. "That could've killed me!" Rory said nothing, and brought his staff back, holding it at the ready out in front of his body, one end nestled under his arm the other spread out in front as if to ward off any counter-attacks. With a surge of energy, Rory leaped forwards again, his staff coming down over his head with the full force he could exert. Rev's eyes widened before he brought his own sword up and tried to slide sideways. He was only partially successful, the staff caught the sword near his hands and it thumped to the ground in the opposite direction Rev had leaped, the staff continued downwards catching Rev's thigh on the ricochet.

Rev's groaned and fell to one knee clutching his thigh as it cramped. Rory shook his head sadly and retrieved the boy's sword. When Rory threw it at his feet, Rev looked up, hate brimming up and out of his eyes as if they were simply funnels. "Again" Rory said in a fakehigh alto voice, his voice full of scorn. His consciousness reached for the plane then, just a small touch, like letting loose fingers drag through rushing water. He nudged a thread of fire towards Rev.

Rev grabbed his sword and struggled to his feet. This time Rory didn't let him settle before he swung the staff quickly at eye level, spearing for Rev's eyes. When Rev blinked and tried to raise his sword to ward off the imaginary blow Rory brought the other end of the stave up and around, cracking Rev's wrists and sending his weapon to the lush grass again. Rory wasn't finished though, he stepped inside while Rev was backing away, who was holding his wrist tenderly and landed a blow with the tip of his staff. Had the end been pointed it would have travelled clear through the thin boy, as it was the blow emptied Rev's lungs with a sickening wheeze. The boy fell to his knees with a wet chocking sound and fell forwards. His hands clawed the grass as he fought desperately for breath.

Rory paused and surveyed the prostrate swordsman with a grimace. He went and retrieved the sword and flung it back down beside Rev's outstretched arms.

"Again!" Rory snarled, "Come on, get up lordling! Or is this the extent of your skills? To be thrashed by a Northman and a twig?" Rory laughed, the wall of trees sheltering his voice from the rest of the world. Again he wove a thread of fire, a bit larger this time, encouraging the anger. "I can see now why your father would dump you here alone. Out of sight out of mind right? That's how you Thiians would say it eh?"

Rev took a long time to get to his feet again, Rory watched impassively and waited. Rev's eyes were smouldering now, the rictus of a snarl etched onto his lips. Rory grinned at the panting and coughing boy as he slowly raised his sword. Rory gave him five heartbeats before he struck again. With a flash of metal, Rev met the staff with his sword and a wordless yell. Then he was pressing, his sword and Rory's staff a blur in the warm morning air. Rory had to take several steps backwards until Rev ran out of gas, the blow to his torso was still giving him breathing problems, Rory struck again brushing Rev's sword aside he rushed the boy and knocked his feet out from under him with his foot and slammed his open palm into his chest. Rev hit the ground hard, flattening the grass underneath. Rory raised the staff and stabbed downwards.

Rev stared up at Rory, his chest heaving as he panted, sweat soaked him thoroughly; it ran off his forehead down into his eyes causing him to blink rapidly. Those blue eyes of his stared in horror at the tip of the staff which had smashed into the ground beside his ear, a long line of blood suddenly appeared on his cheek where the stave had narrowly missed smashing his jaw and crushing his throat. Rory bent over so Rev could see his face and grinned.

"Hey, that was pretty might even give my six year old sister a run for her money if you fight like that all the time!" Rory watched as fury eclipsed every portion of Rev's being. "Oops? Sorry, did I hit close to the mark there? Is that what your Father kept telling you? That you fight like a girl? C'MON! Show me how it made you feel."

Rev yelled then, a cry from his true self, his eyes flashed like Rory had never seen before. Rory found himself rolling to his feet after Rev had shoved him off. The sword was back in his hands and a dark cloud hanging from his shoulders. Rev, at that moment, wanted to kill him. Rev lunged, his sword a blur so quick Rory barely dodged out of the way, he tried to bring his staff up for a quick feint but Rev ignored him completely and unleashed a brutal horizontal swipe. Rory jumped backwards, Rev on his heels. It was all he could do to fend off Rev's inhuman blows that were raining down from seemingly everywhere--just like Rev, he never struck from the same position twice, his legs were a blur as he lunged and swiped, dodging in and out of the staff's range with quick easy movements. There was no form, no technique to follow, just his sharp reflexes and his iron will and raging fury.

There was a dull crunch when Rev's sword glanced off of Rory's left shoulder. Pain rippled from it, and Rory quickly shut it out, letting his senses focus on Rev's startlingly different movements. Desperately, Rory kicked Rev in the shin on his next lunge, hoping the pain would distract the boy long enough, but Rev's eyes were completely shrouded with hatred, every pore in his body was screaming for Rory's blood. For the first time in a long time, Rory felt thin tendrils of fear wrap around his heart. The urge to reach into the ambient plane nearly overwhelmed him at that moment.

No, focus Rory! He told himself angrily, there is no way Rev could get so good so quickly.

Rory was again moving backwards, giving ground under Rev's furious assault. Bruises and welts formed where the blade found skin, glancing blows all of them. Rory stumbled against a protruding root, falling against one of the pines Rev followed up with a downward slice that was meant to burst his head like an overripe melon. In an act of sheer desperation, Rory dropped his staff and flung himself forwards, his now bruised and battered arms clamped desperately around Rev's chest and bore him to the ground the sword fell from his grip.

"Rev...REV!" He yelled desperately as the boy tried to claw his eyes out. Rory grabbed his arms and pinned them on the ground. "Rev, STOP! You did it! You did it, enough!" But the fury that had risen had also blinded the swordsman. All that anger he had kept to himself, all the self-hatred and feelings of inadequacy, his pain and failings washed through him. He would not listen. He squirmed and wriggled, trying everything to throw the battered Northman to the ground. One of his arms got free and he punched Rory as hard as he could before Rory got it pinned again. This was going nowhere. His arms were at their limit and he saw stars in front of his vision.

It was the ultimate hubris, Rory suddenly realised. What had he been thinking? He had known nothing about Rev. All this anger and should never have been released all at once like this. Rory was suffocating under it, he tried to close it off, but it was too much...too much for him. What had he done? The tiny tendrils of fire he had woven had turned into an emotional funnel, draining every corner of Rev's emotions. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Not like this!

There was no other way. Rev was going to kill himself. Rory, with his last bit of strength did the only thing he could possibly think of at that moment. He reached into the elemental plane, he tugged and wove two thin tendrils of earth and water in an intricate pattern that stretched from him into Rev. He gave up on Rev's hands and grabbed his head with both hands and lowered his lips until the connection was completed.

The tiny lines of earth and water flared brightly before his eyes. As his body surrendered to its exhaustion he felt Rev go limp underneath. Horror was the last emotion to well up and flood Rory's mind. Revulsion and regret, he felt sick.

What have I done? Were the desperate thoughts that chased him from the bright morning.


Grey Eyed Justice -- End of Book Two

Dio's Corner

Eeeep! Another book done and gone? I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I did writing! I wonder what's going to happen to Rev? I guess Rory might've meddled with something he shouldn't have!!! @_@ And who is the stranger Jaden met? A friend? A Foe? Humm...he's ugly that's for sure :O


Thanks to everyone who e-mailed me! If you haven't gotten a reply yet it's because I've been really busy lately, and in my meager amount of spare time I only have time to write story stuff. I'll try to answer a.s.a.p. I can tell you I've read them all and I appreciate every single one of them! Without your support and suggestions/comments I wouldn't have written all this! So, if you ever want to chat or you simply have more general comments or suggestions for improvements, please write me! I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of your opinions.

Due to a bunch of requests, I started a mailing list (no, I don't have a website so stop asking! I'm internet incompetent) for future releases. So, if you want to get a quick little note when the next chapter is coming out drop me a line @ with the subject "Add me to G.E.J. mailing list".

So again, thanks a lot you guys! (and gal ^_^ did you notice your cameo role? *whistles innocently*)

Dio...signing off!