Monday, December 22, 2014

A Lesson in Bullying, Part 1

I heaved a sigh of relief as the dismissal bell rang, signaling the end of a long Monday. Eight long classes, six of which were AP, now done and out of the way of what really mattered on the first day of the week:
History Club.
I'd gotten a lot of grief for joining and running it over the years, from both my classmates and older siblings, none of whom understood just how I felt about it. The other members and I, though, we all felt that history is one of the best subjects around for being passionate about.
Our motto? Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
That quote is something we've tried to incorporate into our everyday lives, alongside with finding interesting events from the past we want to know more about. And somewhere along the way, the school faculty began to support us, and decided that for all the hard work we were putting into our research and discussions, the seven of us deserved some extra credit in our courses.
That's just a side bonus, really, and while we appreciated the gesture it wasn't something for us to get overly excited about. Unfortunately, though, there were others in the school who didn't feel the same way.
As I found out that Monday, walking into Mr. Cordrey's classroom, and getting the shock of my life. Because sitting at my usual desk was Chelsea O'Brian, possibly the prettiest, most popular and most cruel senior in Old Hills High School. She had an impressive stack of research notes sitting in front of her, though her current attention was the expensive iphone in her hands.
My fellow club members looked just as stunned, though decidedly more worried, and Jaelyn, sitting to the right of Chelsea, seemed ready to cry as she stared down at the floor.
"Um, hi there, Chelsea." I finally spoke, moving forward to stand beside her. "Are you actually here for the club meeting?"
Her eyes flickered up to me, then to Mr. Cordrey, and back to me before returning to her phone. "Oh, of course, I just love history." It took another moment for me to register that, still freaking out internally over this utterly intimidating girl being within three feet of me. I mean, Chelsea had probably dated and broken up with just about every athletic jerk who'd ever thrown my books in a mud puddle or pushed my friends and me around in the hallways and laughed about it.
Girls like her just didn't come to a club meeting of history buffs. But, apparently, this was a day for exceptions.
"Well, alright then... Um, you're in my seat, though." As soon as the words passed my lips, I knew they were going to cause a problem. Her eyes rose slowly this time, to send a deep glare into mine, and it was a gaze that promised pain.
Out in the world of lockers and bullies, that look would scare me. Well, it did scare, even here, but this club was my territory, and powerful or not, I wasn't about to let Chelsea think she could run it like any other school group.
I stood my ground, and lo and behold, she stood up, grabbed the papers off the table, and moved to other end. Suddenly, all of my club mates were staring at me with a mixture of awe and startled fear. I just rolled my tense shoulders and sat down, pulling out my own notebook.
The situation was just like a couple of points from the very subject we studied: small forces could easily defeat larger ones, if they fought on the correct terrain to suit their advantages, and presenting a strong face to scare off the enemy would sometimes prove enough to win without any confrontation at all.
"Okay then, we agreed to all look into Ancient Chinese civilization over the past week..."

To Be Continued

Monday, December 8, 2014


A piece written for my Creative Writing class at school, this is technically an excerpt from my Jr. Team comicbook series. It comes across a bit differently from the visual format I'll transfer it too eventually, but... the narrator's inner monologue was pretty fun to experiment with.
Not everything superheroes do is in the open - sometime Intelligence agents have pretty serious cover.

The instant I stepped into Blackren’s Eye Room, I knew something was wrong. The screens that covered every available inch of wall space were dark, almost as if they had gone from displaying information to absorbing it. Comparing them with blank stares of dispassionate people gave me an uncomfortable shiver, so I turned my attention instead to the man at the far end of the room.
He was back into his usual outfit of a pale grey suit with silver accents, hands clasped together behind his back and feet spread in what I could only call a military parade rest. As I approached, my supposed boss turned to eye me with a cool eye. Normally, he would have an expression of cheer overlaying relaxed confidence - the mask, I termed it, for it wasn’t the true face of Baatsi Ren.
This, though... This was the expression that heralded the arrival of Blackren, his inner demon, the true monster behind all the murders and atrocities I was investigating. The back of my neck prickled uncertainly, and I had to remind myself that he knew me as Miss Moffat, spymistress and assassin extraordinaire; Blackren had no reason to mistrust my cover, yet.
“I’m glad to see you are fully recovered from that unpleasant skirmish with the Jr. Team, my dear.” His voice, normally flowing like clear water in a mountain stream, sounded rough, edgy. Following the face, this was the second biggest indicator that Blackren’s nastier side was about to emerge.
“Your words are appreciated, sir.” I bowed my head respectfully, grateful that the vocal synthesizer within my mask could hide my nervousness in addition to disguising my voice.
“Though, I have been puzzled by something I hoped you could clear up for me.” His left hand rose and gestured to a screen immediately before us, which activated with a burst of color. After I’d blinked, my stomach dropped to the approximate level of my feet.
Grainy security footage, despite the camera being severely damaged, was still able to display a few moments of the battle that had taken place two days before.
Specifically, when the group of teenage superheroes-in-training known as the Jr. Team had invaded Blackren’s headquarters in an effort to shut down the central control for his robotic army wreaking havoc across the largest cities of the country. The unexpected attack led to the rather ramshackle distribution of villains in Blackren’s employ to combat the intruders. One fight, which the screen now displayed, was between myself and a ninja of the codename Phase.
His real name was Austin Brindoll, and he was my eldest son. Up until that point, he’d been ignorant of my undercover assignment, something that’d been eating away at me for the three years I’d been posing as Miss Moffat. I’d taught him to fight when he was a child, and with my own restrictions within my cover, it had been clear to me at the time that Phase could have easily defeated me, and ruined those three years of work.
So I had turned off my synthesizer to speak to him.
Fortunately, the camera that caught us wasn’t able to pick up audio feed, or I’d have been dead already. What it did pick up was Phase’s suddenly stiffened posture, and the roundhouse kick I’d used to knock him out.
Hurting my child like that, worse than anything I’d ever done when training him, had affected me enough that I moved him out of the way of any other combatants, before running off to supposedly help my fellow villains in their own fights.
I hadn’t stopped to consider that any security cameras were still functioning enough to see that.
“Sparing an enemy on the battlefield is not something I’m opposed to... But it is certainly not something to congratulate, and seems completely out of your usual line of work, Miss Moffat.” Blackren stated, tilting his head to one side as he glanced at me. The inherent question was innocent enough, I suppose, but all the previous signs I’d noticed now screamed at me to be very, very careful with how I handled this.
“My first thought is always to kill my opponents, sir, but in this case your voice of reason prevailed over my instinct.” I spoke slowly, cautiously, still thinking furiously.
“Yes... I recalled your frustration at no longer knowing the location of the Jr. Team children once they received a headquarters not contained within the Houston Center. I placed a tracking device upon my opponent, and attempted to ensure he would survive the battle and lead us to their base.”
The calculating expression of a hunter, debating whether or not something before it was prey, vanished, to be replaced with his usual look of cheerful confidence.
“And has your device sent back location coordinates?” He asked, eyes glinting. Now I bowed my head in a gesture of shame.
“No, sir; the signal vanished about a mile north of the city. I can only assume that the children’s new headquarters has state-of-the-art cloaking shields to guard against just such a tactic.” His annoyance was instant, but brief. Satisfied with my explanation, Blackren dismissed me, and turned to reactivating the screens around his Eye Room. They flickered to life as I walked out, treating me to a few brief images of my son in uniform, and the other teens of the team he was now a member of - all part of the new obsession of Blackren’s schemes.
And that scared me worse than any other dark deed the mastermind had committed.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Crisis at Forest's Edge, Part 4: Recovery

Something wet trickled across her face, causing Crant to squirm and open her eyes. She blinked up at the open end of a water pouch being held over her, and beyond that the cat-like features of a felisapi.
“Good morning.” He said cheerfully. “Don’t move, or you might tear the stitches I put in.” Blinking in confusion, Crant tried to lift her head. She managed to glimpse linen bandages on the places she remembered getting injuries, and quite a few more than that, before dropping her head back down. The rustle of grass told her that she was still in the field from the night before, the stench of death all around confirmed the damage she must have done.
“I’ve heard that when a wolfen transforms, they cannot recall things that occurred while in their other shape. Is that true?” The felisapi healer inquired.
“...Yes.” Crant answered, her tongue feeling fuzzy. “For the most part, at least. I remember vague images, sometimes snatches of sound. Usually screams.”
“Well, there was quite a bit of that last night.” He chuckled humorlessly.
“You saw what happened?”
“Not me personally, though several of our sentries watched all of the action. They called for reinforcements, but decided not to engage unless you tried to enter the forest. Fortunately for everyone, you returned to your human shape after killing those men, then passed out from blood loss.” Crant nodded absently. Her healer’s description matched what typically happened when she shifted to her wolfen form. It was a dangerous thing to do, as her other shape was little more than an unstoppable killer, but there was no other way she could have survived that battle
Steps coming towards them made Crant glance up again. A female felisapi, wearing elegantly crafted hardwood armor and a pair of thin shortswords on her hips, stopped where she could look down at Crant’s face. The two of them exchanged neutral glares for a moment.
“I see you have awoken finally.” The felisapi spoke at last. “You may call me Commander Kelih. What is your name, stranger, and why were you trying to enter our forest?”
“Most call me Crant. Three days ago, I had a confrontation with some Eradicator initiates, though I didn’t know who they were until after I had killed a couple of their number. This wasn’t the first time I’ve gotten on the bad side of their organization, and felt I’d better find a safe place to try and evade them.” She gave a tiny shrug. “Obviously, that didn’t work.”
“And you are just as clearly in no condition to travel.” The felisapi commander mused. “Very well, Crant, you will be welcomed into Felisa’s Forest, and free to stay as long as you need.”
“Just like that?” Crant asked, surprised at the invitation. She expected to be allowed sanctuary only until her injuries healed.
“Of course. You are wolfen, and therefore Animkind. Besides, once the Eradicators realize you’re responsible for the destruction of one of their Hunting groups, they’ll have scouts combing the area for weeks.” Commander Kelih looked at the felisapi healer. “How soon can we move her?”
“Since I finished with the last bandage before I woke her up, just as soon as a stretcher gets here.” He reported.
A few minutes later, another healer arrived with the components of said stretcher, and they carefully slid the leather sheet underneath Crant before attaching it to the two wooden poles. As she was lifted off the ground, the woman saw that an entire squad of the cat warriors were dragging the corpses she had created to a pile for burning. The sight of the destruction made her suddenly realize something.
“My sword-” Crant started to say, but Commander Kelih, walking beside her, held up a paw.

“Already retrieved and cleaned.” She said. Crant nodded her thanks, and closed her eyes to relax. “Perhaps,” Kelih continued, “Once your wounds have healed, and your strength returned, you could put that sword to good use. Some of our villages to the north have sent disturbing reports of demon sightings...” The felisapi trailed off when she saw that the human had slipped away into sleep. “...But we can discuss that later.” She smiled, and let the healers carry the mysterious woman to their nearby fort’s infirmary.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crisis at Forest's Edge, Part 3: Battle

Two days ago that had been. Two hard days of running, but also of time-consuming stunts to throw the following Eradicators off her tracks. Now, it was full night with the double moons overhead, and Crant had almost reached the forest. She could see the looming trees ahead, and the promise of their deep shadows to hide her kept the woman moving even as her leg muscles threatened to cease working.
Crant was only a few hundred feet from safety when the leading hounds charged out of the underbrush behind her. They were a ways back, but sprinting towards her at a rapid pace. She had no choice but the draw her sword and turn, or risk being hamstrung by those canine teeth.
Normally, Crant would feel conflicted about harming innocent animals, but these dogs had been bred and trained by the Eradicators. All they knew was the desire to hunt and kill, unable to feel any emotion aside from loyalty to their masters.
As the first hound leapt at her legs, Crant thrust her blade forward, impaling the animal through the chest. The rest of the pack slowed their approach as their companion's corpse was dropped to the ground, and they spread out in a loose circle around their prey. Crant remained where she was, knowing the hounds would try to injure or distract her, stalling until the human hunters arrived. Deciding not to wait for one of them to attack, Crant feinted at a hound in front of her, then spun around and struck instead at the beast sneaking up from behind. This time her sword cut a long gash in the hound's side as it tried to dodge, and the dog fell to the ground whimpering in pain. That left six more of the little beasts to contend with, as well as the anger rising within her.
Crant had seen warriors on the battlefield grow enraged and lose their tempers. For some, that could grant an advantage. Most of the time it left the combatants vulnerable to their opponents. For Crant, giving in to her rage was extremely dangerous - for anyone who was near her.
Three of the hounds leaped forward at once, one from her left and two on the right. Crant stepped back, letting them crash into each other. Before she could swing at those three, though, a fourth hound almost managed to latch on to her sword arm. It tore through her leather glove, scraping the skin beneath and drawing blood. Even as her sword stabbed through the hound’s neck, Crant cursed the small wound. Any trace of blood could drive these dogs into a frenzy, and her lower arm was quickly becoming covered in the stuff.
The arrow that suddenly sank into her left thigh didn’t help either, although the sight of the forty or so men that had arrived at the edge of the field distracted Crant from the fresh pain. At least half of them were notching arrows to bowstrings or loading bolts into crossbows. Whoever had put together this group, they knew the best way to take her down was from a distance.
Crant grimaced. Not from the pain of her injuries, but with the realization she wasn’t going to win this with her usual tactics. The only way to get out of this was to unleash her anger.
“I would have thought she’d try to run.” One archer casually remarked to his friend.
“Probably knows it’d be useless.” The crossbowman chuckled. He started to make another joke, but a sudden grip on his shoulder caused the man to look up in surprise.
Surprise that instantly turned to horror.
In the middle of the field, the woman they had been chasing for the past two days had dropped her sword to the ground. Rather than raise her hands in surrender, though, she was marching straight for their group. With each step she took, Crant’s features changed. Her gloves and boots split apart to make way for huge claws, pale grey fur grew out from her skin, and when she opened her mouth, gleaming fangs could be seen and a  rumbling growl came towards them.
Of every monster the Eradicators had ever done battle with, a wolfen was the only one they feared. The Hunt leader tried to shout the order to shoot, but found his voice had ceased working.
The last uninjured hound tried to leap at the monster, but a lightning-fast paw reached out and caught it mid-air. With a casual toss, the dog was thrown away, finally crashing to the ground with a sickening crunch. As the final phase of the transformation turned the woman’s head into that of a wolfen, she glared straight at the Hunt leader and snarled. The man began to shake in his boots, and barely managed to order his men to fire. A hail of arrows and crossbow bolts arced out over the field, heading right for the wolfen.
Some landed short, of course, or a bit off to the side. A handful would have caused serious wounds had the monster not swiped them out of the air, and the few that were left only scratched her. Howling with full fury now, the wolfen charged, crossing the distance between her and the Eradicators with almost impossible speed. Some of the slightly calmer archers managed to fire some arrows at her, and one even impacted at the right shoulder. Almost everyone else had begun to panic, hastily bringing forward their swords, spears and axes to combat the menace almost upon their group.
It didn’t do them any good.

To Be Continued...

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Crisis at Forest's Edge, Part 2: Trouble's Here

Dropping to a crouch and somersaulting forward, Crant drew her sword from its scabbard as she went. Two arrows and another bolt passed through the space she'd been standing, joining the first projectile off on the other side of the road. Rising to her feet, sword held up before her and feet spread apart, Crant took a deep breath to keep down the anger threatening to boil out of her.
"I heard the hoofbeats when your horses galloped past behind the ridgeline a little while ago." She called out, referring to the long hill that stretched out beside the bare-dirt of the road. "Why don't you lot come out here where we can pretend this is a fair fight."
A moment later, Talarn and three of his men stepped into sight. Crant's hands tightened on the hilt of her weapon.
"Perhaps this is just a misunderstanding." Their leader called, keeping his hands by the axes on his belt.
"Sure it is." She chuckled. "That's why you just tried to shoot me."
"Just tell us why you sabotaged our gear last night, and we'll let you go without trouble." Talarn said calmly.
"And why would I do a thing like that?"
"Because if you don't, you'll die here, very painfully, without anyone around to help you." He stated, in an icy voice.
"Now," Crant snarled, "What in Sarant's name makes you think I need help?" With that, she lunged forward, driving the sword toward his chest. Talarn dodged on pure instinct, backing up to put some distance between the woman and himself as he seized his weapons.
The men beside him did not recover as quickly, and before the one closest to where his leader had been standing could move, there was a sword sticking out of his side. Crant pulled back her blade as the man crumpled to the ground. Talarn got over his shock and charged her, only to have the reddened sword block his downward sweep. A kick to the gut caused him bend double, then Crant slammed the pommel at the end of her hilt against the back of his head. Talarn dropped without another sound.
A battle cry coming from behind her grabbed Crant's attention, and she dropped down to swing her leg out in a sweeping kick. The man with a pair of daggers behind her crashed to the ground. One swift sword strike punctured his chest, driving through armor and organs with ease. Withdrawing her weapon, Crant rolled to the side, coming to her feet ready for the next attack.
The last man in the group had started running almost the same instant the fight started, presumably to get the others of their company. Debating silently with herself for a moment, Crant decided she’d retreat to a more defensible position, rather than going after him. Stepping over to the grass patches by the side of the road, she stooped to wipe the blood off her blade, and heard the slight groan from Talarn’s prone form. Crant moved towards him once her sword was clean.
A nudge from her boot rolled the man onto his side. He was still unconscious, Crant was glad to see, but then something slipped out onto the ground. It was a silver pendant on a leather cord around Talarn’s neck, which he had been wearing under his shirt. Crant knelt to get a better look, and the cold hand of fear grappled with her heart.
The silver disk was imprinted with the image to two crossed swords, intersected by a barbed arrow. It was the symbol of the Eradicators, a cult that took lessons from two different goddesses, Huntress Alasi and Nikheen the Victorious, and combined them in a twisted fashion. They believed that every Animkind was guilty or capable of great evil, and needed to be destroyed before they could harm the inhabitants of the southern lands. Now that she knew Talarn was a member, Crant couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of the Eradicators earlier, when first listening to that pair at the inn the night before.
Not wasting time to bind Talarn’s hands or feet, Crant started running. She’d encountered the Eradicators on occasion in her travels, and had earned a place on their list of worst enemies. Once that fellow who’d run off got word to higher members of the cult, they’d send a well-armed party of their greatest warriors to track down Crant, and that wouldn’t be good for her health.
The nearest settlement was the one she had just left, but it wouldn’t do any good to try and hide there. Her pursuers would just assume the humans there were on her side, and burn everything down. If Crant was to escape the Eradicators, she’d need to go someplace prepared to ward off hostile parties.
That meant the Animkind of Felisa’s Forest. They had weapons, defenses, and warriors who were already enemies of the Eradicators. Assuming, of course, they didn’t shoot Crant when she tried to enter their land.
Hurrying away from the scene of the short fight, Crant spotted a large tree with widespread branches beside the road. She waited until she was underneath one such extended limb, then leaped. Gloved hands grasped the thick branch, and Crant heaved herself up into the tree. Moving carefully, she ducked and crawled through the foliage to a position beyond sight if the road, and jumped back down the the ground.
Crant went on like that for the rest of the day, hiding her trail, back-tracking at times, jumping up to travel through the tree-tops and other tricks to throw off pursuers. Eventually, as the sun was touching down on the western horizon, she stopped on a rocky shelf by a stream. There Crant opened her pack and pulled out a small package of dried meat and bread rolls. She munched on the food, mulling over the consequences for killing two Eradicator initiates and severely injuring a third. They already wanted to kill her, of course, for speaking out against them and being what she was, but a transgression such as this could earn her some serious torture first.
Just as she was finishing her meager meal, a slight scent carried on the breeze from the south caused Crant to stiffen. She turned her head to the direction she had come, and confirmed the smell.
Smoke, with the tang of pitch, which meant torches. And with the distance the scent had to go in order for her to detect it, there were probably a few dozen of them. Packing away the remains of her dinner, Crant stood to continue her escape. She knew this stream flowed to the north, eventually joining up with more bodies of water that all led to the Lonrea River. If she could reach Crick's Creek, there would only be a few miles of sparse woodland between her and Felisa's Forest. Assuming Crant could make it that far...

To Be Continued

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Crisis at Forest's Edge, Part 1: Trouble Brewing

She hurried through the scattered bushes and sapling trees, occasionally throwing a glance backwards to check for pursuit. The sounds of the Eradicators came to her ears on the breeze, the hounds barking, the men shouting and cheering. They had grown fainter after she jumped the creek, but too much time had been wasted in that blasted nest of thorn-covered vines. Now, they were gaining on the open ground between the hill area and the forest proper.
The Eradicators were coming to kill her, and even if Crant could make it to the forest, there was no guarantee that the inhabitants wouldn't execute her themselves.
This most recent mess had started three nights before, when the young woman had stopped at a roadside inn for the night. A pair of well-armed men had been lounging at a table in the center of the room with their drinks, talking loudly and acting rude. They'd at one point mentioned that their party would be going monster hunting the next day, and were sure to bring back some Animkind corpses.
Crant had seen many members of the bestial races that made up the Animkind people, and had come to respect a few of them as well. She knew any attack on the part of these men would certainly result in retaliation upon any humans in the area, and had the potential for the deaths of innocents on either side. That night, after the pair had passed out at their table, Crant had snuck into the inn's small stable. There were only six or so stalls, and each of them housed a decent-sized horse, with tack and gear hung in sacks on the gates.
Without a sound, the woman had taken her sword and sliced some narrow gashes into each mount's saddle girth, the belt that went under the horse and held the saddle in place. The cuts were not big enough to be noticed by someone not looking for them, but once the girth's buckles were tightened, the strain would hopefully cause them to tear.
The next morning, as she munched on some freshly cooked scrambled eggs and hash browns, Crant heard some satisfyingly-startled cries coming from the stables. The same pair she'd observed before slinked into the room, along with three of their companions. All of them appeared rather disheveled, and one fellow appeared to be favoring his left leg. Behind the group stalked in a dark-haired man with a pair of short-handled axes hanging on his belt. This was the one member of the group that didn't look like he'd fallen off of his horse.
Taking a seat at the long table beside the smaller one where Crant ate her morning meal, this man glared at each of the others in turn.
"Who was supposed to be on watch last night?" He growled.
"Me, Talarn." One of the pair from the previous night muttered.
"And why didn't you check the stables? For the gods' sakes, don't you realize we're practically in Animkind territory?"
"But, I figured, since we weren't in a camp, Solsh and I could have a few drinks..."
Crant snorted. "More than a few, it looked like." She muttered. The dark-haired man, Talarn, stiffened, and turned his head just enough to look at her with one eye.
"I don't suppose you saw anything last night, did you, miss?" He asked, in a tone of annoyance.
"Afraid not. Though, I will point out, there's no Animkind settlement that's close enough to have sent a scout or two in order to sabotage you without risking those scouts' lives on the journey."
"And what would you know about those monsters?"
She took a moment to slowly set down her fork. "I know they don't deserve the reputation people usually assign to them. I also know they don't risk their warriors' lives on meaningless raids."
"Maybe it wasn't one of those beasts. Maybe it was an Anim-sympathizer." Talarn said, his lips curling into an unpleasant sneer.
"My goodness, what would ever give you that idea?" Crant tilted her head with a crooked smile. Now his gaze hardened into a glare, and Talarn stood with an abrupt scrape of his chair.
"C'mon. We have gear to repair." He snapped before stomping out of the room, the other men following along dutifully. Crant allowed herself another chuckle before returning to her food.
About an hour later, after paying the innkeeper and retrieving her pack from the room, she'd set out along the northern road. As was her habit, Crant kept both eyes scanning in either direction, and her ears tuned to the natural bird calls and plant rustlings of the surrounding land. So she was ready when a crossbow bolt whistled out of the tall grass to her left.

To Be Continued...

Out the Window

“But I’ve got to finish my float potion-”
“Don’t care! Out!”
“What about the preservative powders? Bolt storage crystals? You said this morning we needed a dozen dancing light displays-”
“I meant for next week! Freniden Brusan, you’ve been the ideal, hard-working student for far too long. Now as you wizardly Master, I’m ordering you to go spend a few hours out of our workshop, out of this Tower, and out of my hair!”
“But-” The gate was slammed in his face before Fren could continue. Huffing a sigh, the boy turned and stomped off down the street. If his obvious anger wasn’t enough to clear people from his path, the green fifth-year apprentice belt was.
By the time he’d reached the crowded Trader Square, Fren had calmed down enough to become nervous. In five years of living in Sarantan City, the former farm boy had never explored the massive city on his own. Now his senses were swamped by the sheer amount of incoming newness: loud-mouthed merchants, pushy purchasers, harried hagglers; it was all so disorienting.
Finally, Fren managed to squeeze himself out of the Square and into a dim alleyway, trying to catch his breath. The roar of the multitudes was muted here, as near to peaceful quiet as he was likely to find. Then there was a crash from above. A second floor window was being kicked apart directly over him, to Fren’s amazement. However, his curiosity turned to horror when the person doing it jumped out.
WHUMP. Unable to move himself quickly enough, Fren was flattened by the falling form. He wheezed out a curse before the person rolled off of him.
“Oops. Sorry there, kid.” Taking in the youthful face that watched him with concern, Fren responded with as much venom as he could muster.
“What did you do that for?” He spit out.  The youth started to answer when a voice above cut them off.
“Down there! He’s got an accomplice!”
“Uh-oh, time to run again. Come on, kid!” Fren’s hand was grabbed, and his next words of Who are you calling kid? were lost in a sudden sprint. Pulled back into Trader Square, he followed as they went on a wild dance through the crowd, around display stalls, and once over a hay wagon. Then they became, to Fren, hopelessly lost in a maze of side streets and alleys.
The pair didn’t stop until slipping into an abandoned shop that overlooked the river, where the stranger opened a secret panel in the floor. Too tired to care, Fren accepted the bottle that was handed to him and took a swig. The mouthful of burning liquid set him to coughing uncontrollably.
The kid crouching next to him just grinned. “Tastes terrible, I know, but that potion will get you back on you feet in a minute.”
“What in name all the gods is this? And who are you? What were you doing back there-” Fren’s tumble of questions were halted when the stranger pulled off the big overcoat that hidden a slender body. “Hey- you’re a girl!”
“And you’re a wizardling. Anything else?” Now she took off the wide brimmed hat and let long blonde hair tumble down. “My name’s Tali. Yours?”
“Uh, Fren. Fren Brusan. Where’d did you get this?”
“My grandfather’s old stash. He’s a former soldier.”
“... Well, the supply’s obviously gone bad, if it’s supposed to be a Restorative formula. Mine taste a lot better. But why did we run halfway across the city?”
“I was sneaking around the temple of Nikheen, and some soldiers thought I was there to steal stuff. So, I ran, they chased, and here we are. And that wasn’t anywhere near half the city.”
“Oh.” His face flamed with embarrassment. “I don’t get out much.”
“Then you should see more.” Tali jumped to her feet and pulled him up as well. “Where do you want to start?”

The amusing first meeting of my characters Freniden and Petalia, who feature pretty largely in later books. This would be about a year before the two of them set off from the city together, Fren on his officially sanctioned Travel Period, Tali running away to follow in the footsteps of her older sister.
Speaking of that particular relative, I'll be posting in segments a short story about her, along with some more Aylon stuff when I get around to it.
Foul Fall weather has finally arrived in central Texas, and the sore throat it's given me leads to my opinion that it could have waited a bit longer.
Hope that you're enjoying the season,