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by Richard Clough

The trio walked through the woods, seemingly unaware of any danger that the foliage could hide at night. The moon was full that night, and it brightly illuminated the path that they trod upon. The woods were thick around them, the trees and bushes growing almost side-by-side. The combination of leaves and wood could have hidden any number of things, but they seemed not to care.

There were two males and two females. One of the males was just a little boy, who was only eight years old. He had dusty-blond hair that was in an unorganized mess on top of his head. His bright green eyes showed signs of great intelligence despite his age, and they nervously darted to each side of the path repeatedly, his fear evident in his eyes as well. He was wearing a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, and a pair of jean shorts. His shoes were Nikes, which were in poor condition, but were in one piece nonetheless. His skin was fair, and he sunburned easily. He stood at the height of four and a half feet. He carried only one thing on his entire person, and that was a small lighter that he had found in his mother's purse one day. His name was Jonias.

The other male was a young man, who was fifteen years old. His brown hair was hidden beneath a baseball cap he wore backwards on top of his head. His blue eyes reflected his thoughts at all times, anyone could read what was going through his mind if they looked at his eyes. He was wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt and a pair of heavy blue jeans. His feet were covered with boots, which, while travel worn, were still suitable for travel and quite comfortable. His skin was tan from a life in the sun. He stood at the height of five feet and eight inches. He wore a backpack on his back that contained many things. Only he knew how much was in the pack and how much more it could hold. His name was Excal.

The female was a young woman, and the oldest of the group at the age of seventeen. She had fiery red hair that flowed from the top of her hair to the small of her back. Her eyes were pure black, and shone even in the dark. The two orbs portrayed no emotion at any time, and not even experienced people could tell what was on her mind at any time. She wore a pair of sandals on her feet, and they seemed to be almost brand new. She was wearing a black short-sleeved shirt, loose blue pants, and a light blue windbreaker. Her skin was light, but she was native to outside life. She stood at the height of six feet. She wore a belt-pouch in which she kept a few necessities that she might need at strenuous times, such as a pen, some posted notes, a box of mints, a small towel, a box of Band-Aids, and several other trivial things that she held on to. Her name was Nina.

They looked like an ordinary group of children to the casual observer, but those of the world who were "enlightened" could see that the trio was much more.

In the eyes of other Changelings, they were Fae. Jonias was a Pooka. He was part dog because of his affinity with canine animals, and his ears drooped and his tongue was somewhat long, and his hands and feet resembled paws. Excal was an Eshu. He appeared the same in the Dreaming as he did as a human, save for the fact that his ears were slightly pointed and his clothes appeared to be more loose. Nina was a Troll. In the Dreaming, she appeared to be blue-skinned and had shining green eyes and jet-black hair. She also appeared to be almost a foot taller.

They were an unlikely group, all things considered, but they were friends, and they stuck together and watched out for each other. Excal and Nina were undoubtedly the fighters, but Jonias possessed a startling degree of knowledge for someone his age. He was the one who solved riddles and fixed problems that required thought. They traveled the countryside, claiming to be looking for adventure, but what they really wanted was a home.

Their search was long and hard, for they were unique in their own right and for some reason other Changelings found it hard to accept them. So, every day they continued their search, helping out those whom they could, and straying from trouble if they thought they had no business interfering in the matter.

Tonight was no different.
All they wanted was a home.
But they weren't destined to find one.
Not easily, anyway.

"Are you sure of this, Excal?" Nina asked in her calm voice, "These woods do not feel safe."

Excal shrugged, his pack rising and falling with his shoulders, "I honestly don't know, Nina, all I know is that there is s'posed to be a small kingdom here that allows ev'ryone the chance ta earn their place amongst the people there, an' that's where we're headed." He answered in his always fluctuating voice, which portrayed that his emotions weren't under control at all.

"We need not a place to live, we are doing fine in the wilds."

"We have been so far, but who knows how much longer we can? There're things out here that not even I wanna think about."

"Excal?" Jonias spoke up in his small voice.

"Yeah, kid?"

"I think we should just skip the kingdom and just keep adventuring."

Excal frowned, then sighed, "Okay, kid, I know whatcha mean."

Like all Pooka, Jonias was prone to lying habitually about everything. Only through exertion of his willpower could he force the truth out at all, and Excal and Nina had adjusted to this and could almost understand him without thinking.

"I think that the colored version of that is more appealing than stopping in the kingdom, though." Nina commented.

"Yeah, you would." Excal murmured. "What do ya have against the Sidhe?"

Nina looked down at the ground, "I shall tell you later, then maybe you will understand. But, for now I must insist that we avoid this kingdom."

Excal stopped walking and turned around to face the living tower, "Why? Gimme one good reason and we'll skip it, but until then, Nina, we don't stray from this course."

She looked into his eyes, and said silently, "Please, do not make me explore my past yet, I am not ready."

His eyes flashed several emotions at once, and he took in a deep breath before speaking, "All I want is one good reason, Nina, that's all I'm askin'. I'm not sayin' that you have to tell us your life's story, all I want is one good reason."

Nina looked into his eyes, and she could see fear, concern, anger, even a hint of love in Excal's eyes. She simply continued to look at him with no expression on her face as she said, "I am sorry, if I gave you a reason then I would have to tell you the whole story."

Excal sighed and looked away from her. His gaze traveled to the starry night sky, and he said, "We're not skippin' the kingdom. I'm sorry, Nina, but we need a roof for at least one night. I'd like to keep travelin', but we can't just keep walkin' around the world and thinkin' that things will always be alright. You gotta remember, Jonias is just a kid, we can't drag him along all the time like this."

Nina stared down at the young man who was two years younger than her, and remarked, "Then why do we not simply leave him in the care of some capable adults? I know we are not fit to watch after the boy."

"I can't leave the kid behind, that's why. And you can't leave him behind either, I know you can't. We've become a family Nina, we can't just ditch someone because we can't live with them, you know that."

"Yes, I do. But what can we do, Excal? We cannot simply continue to travel with him, yet we cannot leave him. What do we do?"

"We could make a home and live there instead of traveling." Jonias suggested in a forced voice. His companions could tell he was telling the truth.

Excal didn't take his gaze off the stars, "We can't, they'd find us real fast if we stopped movin'."

Nina put a hand on the young man's shoulder, "That is another reason why we cannot stop. They are always chasing us, and if we did stop to live in a kingdom, they would find us fast than if we continued to live in the wilds."

"I know," Excal's voice began to crack with emotion, "I know, but we can't just keep travelin', either, so what can we do?"

"We could stop and fight them." Jonias joked.

"As temptin' as that is, we don't need those guys gettin' mad cause we thrashed a few of their guys."

"So," Nina started, "what do we do?"

Excal looked up into her eyes, "We go to the kingdom, then we move on."

They arrived the next day in the castle where the monarch of the land lived, and stood in awe outside of the gates. After a few minutes were spent staring at the inspiring spires, Excal lead the group into the castle, in hopes of finding shelter for the night.

What they found was an angry Sidhe.

But, Excal proved to be lucky and the presence of Nina earned them a meal and a place to sleep for the night, even if it was only in the servant's quarters.

After they had been given a meager meal, they were shown to the room in which they would have to sleep. Much to their dismay, there were only two beds. Nina volunteered to sleep on the floor, but Excal insisted that he was more accustomed to it and convinced her to take the bed. They hoped for an uneventful night.

They weren't meant to be that lucky.

It was about midnight when his keen ears picked up sounds of a fight outside. He sat up in his bed and looked towards the door in the darkness, and focused his hearing on the sounds outside. He picked up the sounds of swords clanging and bodies falling and the grunts of men and women in battle.

It was then that Excal decided it was time to leave.

He quickly got to his feet, and started to gently shake the sleeping Nina.

She opened her eyes and stared up at him in the darkness, "What?" She asked in a groggy, yet still icy calm voice.

"I think that they've come for us in the castle."

Nina was instantly wide awake and on her feet.

Excal gently awoke Jonias as Nina walked over to the door and put her ear to the heavy oak.

Jonias fitfully woke up, knowing that there was a need to awaken, yet not wanting to because he was still tired.

Excal picked up his pack and slipped the shoulder straps over his shoulders. He looked to Nina who was still listening outside the door for any suspicious sounds.

"Hear anything?" Excal asked, curious as to how they were going to get out.

Nina nodded and pulled her ear away from the door, "It is them, I can hear the guns of that one assassin who gave us so much trouble."

Excal sighed, "Well, we can't charge out there without weapons, then, can we?" He took off his pack and opened the largest pouch of it. He reached in and pulled out what appeared to be pieces of a sword, which he proceeded to put together. The blade was two pieces which locked together quite firmly, which then attached to the balanced hilt and snapped firmly into place there as well. He handed the weapon to Nina, and said, "Here, you were a knight once, this should help you out."

Nina took the sword, and asked, "How do you know I was a knight?"

Excal waved off the question, and reached into his pack again and pulled out a handgun. He handed it handle-first to Jonias, "Okay, kid, don't use this unless you have to, okay?"

"No." Jonias answered.

Excal would of frowned, but he knew what the young boy meant.

"Do we have to fight?" Nina asked, "Why do you not simply Flicker Flash us out of here?"

Excal shook his head, "I can't, not here, I'm kinda low on the Glamour as it is."

Nina frowned, "So we have to fight our way out? Are you sure that is wise?"

Excal shook his head, "I'm sure it's insane, never said it was wise."

Nina sighed, "So, I guess we go charging into the fray like valiant knights?"

Excal smiled, "Something like that."

They charged out of the room, with Nina leading the way and Jonias bringing up the rear. They were caught off-guard by the near empty room that greeted them, and stopped their charge almost instantly. They looked around, and all they could see were bodies of guards and servants laying about.

"None of us do, Nina, there ain't nothin' we can do about it." Excal answered. "They're still around here somewhere, I can feel them."

Mocking laughter echoed in the empty halls, and the trio watched in horror as four people materialized in front of them. Three were men, one was a woman. They were all dressed in robes, and all were carrying weapons. The woman had a rifle in her hands, one of the men had a sword, and the other two held daggers.

The man with the sword spoke up, "So, we've finally caught you three. You thought that you'd get away?"

Excal, Nina, and Jonias all flinched. They could feel the Banality the people were radiating, and it almost hurt them.

"We did nothing to you," Nina stated defiantly, "leave us be."

"It's not us that you committed a crime against, young one," the man smirked evilly, "I think you know who it is that you wronged, Nina."

Nina flinched, Excal shot a confused glance at her, and Jonias looked like he was about to cry.

"What's he talkin' about?" Excal asked.

Nina continued to stare at the would-be attackers, then spoke in her even voice, "I was originally a knight for a kingdom. However, one day I decided that the commander had given some orders that were wrong, so I told him that I would not follow them. Well, the noble took that as a grievous offense and decided that I would pay for my treachery. They've been chasing me ever since."

"It's you their after?" Excal stared at her in disbelief.

Nina nodded solemnly.

"You see," The man broke in again, "we were hired by the noble to hunt you down and exterminate. You have no choice but to turn yourself in to us."

Nina, for the first time since Excal had known her, showed some emotion on her face and her voice became charged with rage, "And if I don't?"

"We kill your friends."

Excal took a fighting stance, "You ain't killin' no one." He stated in defiance.

The man looked at Excal, then at Nina, then at Jonias. He laughed, "What do you three Fae think you can do against Assamites?"

Excal didn't flinch, "You think I'm scared?"

The man didn't seem impressed. He looked to one of the men who was holding daggers, "Shorak, get him."

The dagger carrying man, Shorak, started to advance on Excal.

Suddenly the man was a blur of motion, and Excal suffered from several slash wounds on his stomach and chest. Shorak stepped back and smiled humorlessly, and walked up to the bleeding young man. He looked Excal straight in the eye and said, "You're too slow."

"Oh yeah?" Excal asked, starting to pound his feet on the ground rapidly, "Well, meep! Meep!" Suddenly Excal was a blur of motion, and soon Shorak was laying on the ground, his throat slit twice and his dagger thrust through his chest. Excal looked up from the body and asked, "Anyone else?"

The three remaining assassins stared at the body of their comrade, then the leader said, "You'll pay for that, boy."

Excal smirked, "I don't think so."

The woman took aim with her rifle, and Excal instantly knew he was in trouble.

A loud gunshot echoed in the hall, and Excal closed his eyes.

The woman screamed in pain and dropped her gun, surprised by the sneak attack from Jonias and his gun. The man with the sword frowned, "You three are getting lucky. Tristam, get them."

The other man with a dagger started to advance towards Jonias, and was startled when he heard, "Flames of chaos, aid me now in assisting my friends and scorch this demon!"

His robes instantly caught fire, and he panicked and tried to put out the flames with his hands. Unfortunately for him, he wound up stabbing himself a few times, causing major damage to himself and causing him to fall down, unconscious. Excal knew that somehow Nina had invoked the Wyrd.

The man with the sword frowned, then readied his sword. "You three are definitely a lucky lot, but you cannot escape me, I am many years your superior in combat and in life."

"Maybe you are," Excal remarked, "But it's three on one, in case you haven't noticed."

The man laughed, "But Nina's honor prevents her from fighting against anybody unless the odds are even."

Nina flinched, and Excal swore silently.

Suddenly Jonias spoke up, "Um, sir?"

The man looked down at the little boy and asked, "What do you want, boy?"

"Your sword is in your hand." Jonias answered, pointing to the ground.

"I know it's in my hand." He said, frustrated. Suddenly, his sword was torn from his grasp by an invisible force, and it skittered across the floor to where Jonias had been pointing. The man swore, "You damned faeries! Stop using your cheap parlor tricks and fight me!"

"Do we look that stupid?" Excal asked. "You guys are trained assassins, you think we're gonna play fair?"

Suddenly the man disappeared from sight.

"Oh shit." Excal swore.

"Excal!" Jonias screamed, "He grabbed me!"

Excal spun to face the kid, but saw that Jonias was pointing at Nina instead. He quickly looked over to where Nina had been standing and saw that the man was holding a knife to her throat. Nina's face looked panic-stricken, and her eyes were pleading with Excal in a silent call for help.

"No heroics, boy." The man warned, "If you so much as sneeze funny, I'll slit her throat and break her neck."

Excal felt sick to the stomach, and he fell to his knees in despair. Jonias walked over to Excal and grabbed his arm, "Is Nina gonna die?" the child asked.

Excal looked in the kid's eyes, and saw that the kid was speaking the truth again, and said, "Probably. We might just all die here tonight."

"You will. Okay, Syria, Shorak, let's finish this now."

Excal watched in mute horror as the woman and the first attacker walked over to stand beside the leader and Nina. They glared at Excal and Jonias, hate evident in their eyes.

"Now," the man started, "If you will be so kind as to turn over your possessions, we might just let you two live."

Excal felt pain stabbing his heart, and a tear rolled down his cheek as he took of his back pack and dropped it to the floor. Jonias looked at the three who had his friend hostage, then looked at Excal, who had fallen into a fit of crying, then looked to Nina, who was starting to cry herself.

"Well, child? What do you have?" The man asked.

"Nothing." Jonias answered.

The man frowned, "You're lying. Syria, go search the boy."

The woman stepped forward and approached Jonias.

Excal, noticing that attention had been taken off of him, reached over to his pack and silently reached in. After a few quick seconds of rummaging, he found what he was looking for, and he closed his fist around it, closed his pack, and half hid his face, keeping an eye on the man holding Nina.

Jonias stepped away from Syria, who had a hateful glare in her eyes, and he reached into his pocket. "I don't have anything!" He shouted, "I don't wanna hurt you!"

Syria smirked, "What are you going to do, boy?"

"This!" Jonias yanked the lighter out of his pocket and pointed it at Syria, his thumb on the wheel.

Syria laughed, "What are you going to do with that?"

Jonias invoked the Wyrd, and pushed down on the wheel and hit the gas button on the lighter. A giant flame shot out of the lighter and consumed Syria instantly in flames. She burned faster than her cohort Tristam did, and quickly turned to ashes.

"Big mistake boy." The man spoke up.

Excal suddenly jumped up and threw the object in his hand at the ground. Everyone's attention shifted to the object he had thrown.

It was a spring.

It hit the ground and bounced.

"What?" The man asked, right before an invisible force threw him backwards at an incredible speed. The knife flew from his hand and he involuntarily released Nina. He slammed into a nearby brick wall and split his head open. Nina spun around and swung her sword at the man named Shorak, and cleaved his head off of his shoulders. Jonias released the pressure on the switch of the lighter, and the flames stopped issuing forth. Excal wiped the tears from his eyes and walked up to the one living person left of their attackers, and looked down at him as he lay on the floor bleeding from the split in his head.

"You leave us the hell alone," Excal stated calmly, "Comprende?"

The man looked up, and shuddered from the loss of blood, "I was contracted to kill Nina, and I will if it's the last thing I do."

"You leave her the hell alone!" Excal shouted, his face turning red, "If you come after us again I swear I will rip out your spinal chord and floss with it!"

The man smirked, "What would that do to me? I am a vampire, I could easily heal that in moments."

"Not without blood you can't."

Nina walked up and placed her hand on Excal's shoulder, "Come, we must go. He will not bother us anymore."

Excal looked down at the prone man, then nodded and said, "Let's go."

He and Nina left, but Jonias stayed behind. The boy walked up to the man laying on the ground, and looked at his pale face and frowned. "Why do you want to leave us alone?" Jonias asked.

"I don't, kid, I want to kill Nina." The man answered.

"Why?"

"Because I was hired to."

"Why?"

"Because she brought shame to the house she was with."

"Why?"

"Because she decided what the knights of the house were doing was wrong."

"Why?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask her?"

"Why?"

"Because she'd know the answer."

"Why?"

"Because it was her decision."

"Why?"

The man's face twisted in anger, and he said, "Go away, kid! Let me recover in peace!"

"Why?"

"Go away!"

"Okay, I love you, bye-bye!" Jonias grabbed the man's arm and stated to drag him.

"What are you doing?"

It was night again, and they were standing outside the now deserted castle, looking at the orange tinted horizon. The sun was rising.

"Nina?" Excal asked.

"Yes?" she answered with a question.

"I was scared back there."

"I was too."

"But, there's somethin' you should know."

"Which is?"

"I love you."

Nina looked down at Excal, and saw that he was looking at the ground, almost as if he was ashamed of his words. She smiled softly, and said, "I love you, too, Excal."

He looked up into her eyes, and, for once, saw emotion in them. He smiled and asked, "Really?"

She continued to smile and answered, "Yes, really. That is why I was so scared. I did not want to die without telling you how I felt."

His smile widened, and she leaned down and they kissed.

The sun rose, and Jonias smiled and remarked, "I hope the nice man likes the present I gave him."

A scream of pain and terror came echoing out of the castle, and Jonias grinned widely.

Excal and Nina separated and looked at Jonias. "What did you do?" Nina asked.

Jonias smiled, and forcefully said, "I decided he could use a tan."

Excal burst into laughter, and the other two soon followed suit.

After they were done laughing, they started walking again, continuing their long journey, continually looking for a place to live, and facing the many adventures that came their way. The assassins never came back to bother them.

They never heard from the Baroness that had been after them ever again.

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