Author's Note: o.o Took me long enough, eh? Sorry for the huge delay, guys, and I hope that some of you are still with me here, but I had a case of writer's block. x.x I wrote this until about two in the morning, and not in tiny spurts throughout the month, so please excuse errors and such. e.e;; In addition to that, FP decided to that it wouldn't let me upload a thing for several days. . Evil.

            Well, it's August already, and that means school. *shiver* I have no idea how much free time I'll have after school starts, and it may be necessary for me to put one of my four stories on hiatus. Sadly, this is the story that would be most likely to be put on hiatus first, as each of my stories are about as popular as this, if not a little more, and I'm more sure with where they're going.. -.- I will really try not to let it come to that, though.

            Besides that, I want to focus more on my other main original story, which leaves less time for this one. No, don't tell me to forget that story, as I know that, while you may not know it, several of you are also reading that story. o.o;; I know this because you've either reviewed both stories, or you have both on your favorite stories list.

            So, if you see a story done in a similar style, with similar formatting and the like, it's possible that I am writing it. Please don't advertise it if you know which other stories I'm writing, but if you really want to know, feel free to e-mail me.

            Yes, okay, enough babbling. Minor warning, this chapter contains blood (not fighting, though), so if that squicks you out … er, sorry. u.u;; This chapter is actually quite long for me, so I hope that makes up for such a long delay. ^^;;

            Please review!


          T o  C h a s e  a  T h i e f

            Chapter Thirteen

            The Birth of Chameleon

      Jynx could only stare down at the contents of the bag, her eyes wide and her mouth watering. She hadn't seen so much food since the last feast at the church, which were few and far between. While the wealthy might scoff at the simple meal of dried meat, somewhat stale dark-bread, watered-down wine, and fresh fruit that lay before her, Jynx found herself wondering if she could even manage to eat all of it.

      "You gonna eat it, or are you just going to stare at it?" Kael inquired from his position on the ground next to her, eying her food predatorily.

      She spared him a glance before reaching down and breaking a bite-sized piece off the small loaf of bread. It crumbled between her fingers, and she hastened to loosen her face-wrap a little and place the bread in her mouth. It would be troublesome to eat with the sash covering her mouth, but it was possible to do so, and she couldn't afford to risk any of the boys seeing her face. Who knew how they would react.

      Kael made a huffing sound before digging into his own food with fervor, and Jynx followed shortly after, if a little less enthusiastically. The two were seated at the base of the large boulder, the sun shining down on them cheerfully and helping their clothing dry. The fabric of her own outfit felt rather weighty and clingy still, and she found herself thankful for having taken the precaution of binding her chest, slight though it was.

       Shortly after she had been given her sack, Kael had all but dragged her to their current spot, dropping to the ground in a cross-legged position—consequentially pulling her down next to him—and delving into his own pack. After a moment, she had loosened the pouch strings of the bag and had stuck a hand inside only to encounter several bundles of cheap cloth wrapped around single servings of bread and meat accompanied by a medium-sized wine skin. More fabric was stored at the very bottom of the bag, but Kael told her to wait until later before removing it.

      As she had set out her meal before her, two of the thieves returned to the clearing with fruit held in the impromptu bags that their discarded shirts had made.

      The boys had gone around, passing out one fruit to each youth present, and Jynx had accepted the fist-sized, yellowish gift after a moment of hesitation. She had set the fruit aside to eat last, noting that its flesh was soft and ripe in the process. Kael had informed her that, since Rhys knew which fruits were edible in the forest, they collected them on their trips and augmented the relatively bland meals with the sweet fruits. The girl had only nodded, though she was inwardly pleased—fresh fruit was a real treat for most citizens of Aelous, especially for those who lived closer to the desert than the forest as she had.

      Presently, she was working her way through a stick of some kind of jerky, breathing in the sweet scent of the strange fruit that had filled the clearing. It was exasperatingly difficult to tear pieces of the meat off with her fingers, and after several failed attempts, she finally gave in and stuck the jerky up under the sash, angling it to fit into her mouth. Her jaw movement was limited, but she was able to chew easily enough, one hand placed over the cloth to ensure that it wouldn't slip off.

      As she ate, Jynx became increasingly aware of the red gaze that hadn't once drifted from her. Aren sat, his back pressed up against a massive tree trunk, idly sipping at his watered-wine as he was, for the most part, hidden in the shadows. His clothes were still damp from when he had gone swimming, and they clung to his body despite their usual looseness. He wore a small frown on his pale lips, and he licked them to lap up the last of the somewhat bland wine that lingered on them.

      Though his attentions were beginning to unnerve her, Jynx decided that it would be best to ignore him. If he wanted to stare, then let him stare—she would just have to be all the more cautious around him.

      Finishing the stick of jerky, Jynx turned to face her red-haired eating companion. "Kael?" she asked quietly, and he looked up her, mumbling some incoherent acknowledgement as he shoved the remainder of the roll into his mouth. His cheeks were puffed out comically as he attempted to chew the bread, and Jynx only watched him warily. She continued, "Why does he always stay in the shadows?"

      His brows furrowed, the lute-player quickly swallowed as he turned to face her fully. Tipping his head a little to the side, he replied, "Who?"

      "Him," Jynx stated, and inclined her own head a little towards the shaded tree she knew Aren was sitting under.

      Kael followed her gesture, craning his neck a little to see around her before his mouth formed an 'o' of understanding, "Ohh. You mean Aren?"

      The girl winced a little at the redhead's loud tone—she had purposely spoken quietly and not mentioned the albino's name, not wishing for said boy to know that she was talking about him. Giving Kael a half-hearted glare, she nodded.

      "Y'know what?" her self-proclaimed best friend mused, then grinned widely as he announced, "I dunno! … hmm, why don't we ask him?"

      Jynx's eyes widened in alarm at that, but before she could stop him, Kael was waving his arms wildly and calling over to the shadowed figure of the albino, "Hey, Aren!" A glint of silver broke through the shade, betraying the pale boy's slight movement. Kael continued, heedless of the fire in Jynx's eyes commanding him to do otherwise, "Why do you always sit in the shadows? I mean, aside from you being weird and all."

      Sighing, Jynx pressed a hand to her forehead, refusing to turn around and face Aren. Well, at least now she knew that Kael had no tact whatsoever.

     When no answer came from the shadows, the girl hoped that, somehow, Aren hadn't heard Kael's shouted question. A moment later, she found herself blushing in embarrassment as the silver-haired boy's distinctive voice answered back, quiet and void of emotion, "The sun is harsh and my skin burns easily."

      "Okay! Thanks!" Kael smiled, then turned back to Jynx with a satisfied, happy expression. The girl rolled her eyes and focused on her meal once more, wondering for the hundredth time how she had managed to land herself in this strange situation.

      Under the tree, some distance away, Aren watched the pair with interest. The grassy carpet was cool under him, and the drooping branches waved back and forth in the gentle breeze like beckoning hands waiting to ensnare some unseen prey. His mouth turned down in a small frown as the branches obscured his vision of the strange new boy, but he didn't even consider the possibility of moving—this tree was his sanctuary, his refuge. The same branches that dangled down and veiled the world from his eyes formed around him like a cage, and he didn't dare leave that cage he had built for himself.

      The albino sighed, his slim fingers gripping the body of the wineskin tightly, leaving imprints in the tanned leather coating, though the container had been emptied a few moments earlier. The new boy was eating quickly, though not half as quickly as Kael, who was known for his infinite appetite as much as he was for his unconditional cheerfulness or musical talents. Aren didn't like Kael very much, though not for the reason that most would think. Rhys knew why, and he accepted it, although he wasn't pleased with the albino's reasoning.

      The new boy, however, was a different matter entirely. He dressed to hide himself, and he reacted strangely to most things. Now, he was eating his food without removing the green cloth he had tied around his face, acting in a guarded manner, as if he expected someone to snatch the meal out from under him at any moment.

      Well, that wasn't uncommon for new recruits. Aren had seen his fair share of them, though Rhys rarely took in new members—in fact, the master thief hadn't had his eye on anyone for nearly a year and a half, and then suddenly this new boy appeared, and Rhys pursued him with all the determination of a stubborn mule. Each new boy that Rhys had collected in the past had been damaged in some way, each with their own story to tell and their own debt of gratitude to the master thief—many of them had acted like the new boy was, as if they expected everything to be a dream or a cruel prank. Kael had been one such recruit, among others.

      Not all of the recruits had remained with their group, leaving them before their trial-period was over, but the few that did stay eventually adapted to the life that the band of thieves had to offer. Aren's eyes drifted over to the figures of the other boys scattered in various positions in the clearing, many laughing happily as they devoured their food. Looking back to the new boy, the albino noticed with a sense of vague amusement that the boy was attempting to fit his wineskin up the bottom of his face wrap. It worked, somewhat clumsily, and the boy was able to sip at the watered wine without it spilling over him, but he looked quite ridiculous in the process—which, of course, Kael pointed out immediately, rather loudly.

      Aren set his own wineskin off to one side, not bothering to right it when it fell over on its side on the grass. The new boy … intrigued him. He couldn't help but watch him—even in a small group as they were now, Aren's talent was picking out the new recruit, not allowing his eyes to simply slide over the boy's small frame. His eyebrows furrowed as he watched the desert-garbed boy, not breaking his gaze even when the watched boy turned slowly about to face him, their eyes locking on one another.

      Yes, he would find out just what made this boy so different. He would, if it was the last thing he did.

      "Thinking?" Aren started at the simple word spoken into the silent air that surrounded him, but relaxed when he realized just who had entered his sanctuary. Rhys smiled at him, if a bit sadly, as he slipped down onto the ground next to the smaller boy, his back supported by both the tree trunk and by Aren.

      "Hm," Aren mumbled in returned, turning his attention forward again. The brown-haired boy looked down at his protégé for a moment, something lingering in his green eyes before he followed Aren's gaze.

      "He is something else, isn't he?" Rhys spoke quietly, watching as his new recruit attempted to fit the fruit up under his green sash, nearly choking on it when Kael abruptly pounced on him from behind, giggling insanely. There was a strange expression on Rhys' face as he watched the scene, his lips pursed slightly and something vaguely hopeful about the way his features were set.

      The albino's head moved in a slight, distracted nod, his silver hair dancing a little with even such a gentle action. He pulled his legs up to his chest absently, resting his chin on his knees and staring ahead with a blank look that only Rhys knew meant that the boy was thinking about something deeply.

      Drawing his eyes away from the new recruit—who was currently giving Kael death glares while the exuberant boy sat on top of him, desperately trying to tear the green sash off the new one's face—to observe the albino.

      Aren stiffened when he felt an arm drape over his shoulders, but he didn't turn to look at the older boy beside him. Rhys sighed, leaning into the other boy a little. "What am I going to do with you, eagle?" he frowned a little, hesitated, and then spoke again, "Eagle, why w—"

      "Don't, Rhys," the smaller boy whispered harshly, his eyes narrowed and his features darkened considerably.

      Rhys' own expression hardened a little with determination, and his hold on Aren's shoulder tightened unconsciously, "Eagle. You can't keep ru—"

      Again, he was interrupted, and this time there was steel in the boy's tone, a strange glimmer in those pigment-lacking irises, "Running? Tell me, then, Rhys, what happened to Neko?"

      The reaction was instantaneous, and Aren knew he had hit a nerve. The master thief's eyes narrowed a little, emotions flowing through that liquid green so quickly that the smaller boy didn't have a chance to identify one before another came up. Rhys' body grew rigid beside him, and his jaw was clenched, though for what reason, Aren could only speculate.

      And then, abruptly, it was all gone. The whirlwind of emotions faded, and all that remained was a sad, defeated looking young man who offered a halfhearted smile as he squeezed the pale boy's shoulder reassuringly. "All right, eagle. We'll do it your way."

      "Listen up, m'boys!"

      Jynx jerked her head up guiltily at the call, pulling her hand out of her sack as if it had been bitten. She had been curious as to the bag's remaining contents and, despite Kael's disapproval, had been just about to discover for herself just what was at the bottom of the sack. The master thief grinned widely as he strode into the clearing, somewhere in the middle of where the boys were spread out.

      His shirt once more clinging to his upper body, and his arms were stretched out in a dramatic gesture. He spun around slowly, his eyes falling over the entire assembly, his hair tousled by the wind but still bound by that strip of cloth about his forehead. Rhys spoke again, good humor and a healthy dose of charisma in his tone, "All right, guys, c'mon closer."

      Judging by the reaction he received, it was as if the request had been an order issued by the gods themselves. The boys couldn't seem to scramble to him quickly enough, some throwing themselves to their feet and dashing the distance while others didn't waste time with such things and simply crawled forward on all fours. Jynx found herself being dragged forward by a very excited-looking Kael, who didn't seem the least bit angry at her for smacking him just a moment ago when he had tried to take her face-wrap off.

      She yelped and instinctively dug her heels into the dirt, but there wasn't much distance to cover, and she soon found herself tumbling back to the ground just a few feet from the master thief. The other boys had formed a loose circle, sitting in various positions on the grassy ground around the oldest boy, who towered over them all as he stood.

      "Much better," Rhys smiled, obviously pleased. "Now, I'm sure most of you have realized this already, but I'll say it anyway. Today is special, very special. Today," he paused for effect, "we initiate two new members."

      And that was what triggered the whispers. They began slow, a few scattered words here and there, but then the hush grew to a dull roar as nearly everyone joined in. Rhys observed it all with a tilted grin on his face, and Jynx still hadn't noticed that it was Aren, wearing an apathetic expression that nearly concealed a brief flicker of surprise in his eyes, who was sitting to her left.

      Kael was beaming brightly, and when the desert-garbed youth turned to ask him what was going on, he burst out excitedly, "Did you hear what he said? Two! He said two!" Jynx opened her mouth to demand why that was special, but he continued on regardless, "I mean, I knew Colin's turn was coming soon, since he's been with us for over a year now, but … wow. Rhys always waits until he's sure that the recruit wouldn't betray us, would stay with us forever …"

      The redhead's voice trailed off, and Jynx could only stare at him for a moment. Does he mean … me? her fogged mind wondered.

       Rhys' strong voice broke through her daze, "Okay, okay, guys!" he glanced around, and silence fell gradually. His next words were quiet, hushed, and yet each and every youth present heard them perfectly clear, "Today we join ourselves to these two by blood and soul. They join our kin, and we shall protect them as our own."

      With that, he dropped one of his nimble hands to his belt, fingers grasping the hilt that was sticking out from a pouch and withdrawing the blade in a fluid movement. The dagger design wasn't something Jynx had seen before, though that wasn't saying much, since bearing weapons inside the church was heavily frowned upon by the clergy.

      Its hilt was ornamental, a pearly cream color with gem inserts and silver trimming with a slight curve for easy placement of the hand. The blade itself was decorative as well, though Jynx didn't doubt that it could kill as efficiently as any other dagger. It was made of high quality, tough metal polished to a reflective shine, and the edges were, for lack of a better phrase, curvy instead of straight.

      The blade glinted in the sun as Rhys turned it over in his hands for a moment, looking down at it with an unreadable expression. Slowly, he grasped the handle with one hand, the other spread before him. Then, so quickly that she hardly saw him do it, he flicked the tip of the blade across the middle of his darkly tanned palm. A small bead of crimson gathered on the cut, which couldn't have been any longer then the first joint of her pinky and was undoubtedly very shallow. Rhys looked up at them all with a strange smile on his face.

      With a flick of his wrist, the dagger whipped through the air towards the nearest boy, the blonde panpipe-player, who caught the handle with ease. He closed his eyes briefly as he bowed his head, spreading his palm before him, before drawing the small cut onto his skin without even flinching.

      Jynx watched with wide eyes as the dagger passed to the boy on the panpipe-player's left, who repeated the same process, never wiping the gathered blood from the dagger's tip. It followed from there, each boy silently mimicking the action set forth by his unofficial leader. The blade passed to Colin, who bit his lower lip in nervousness, shakily raising the weapon he had been given. He hand was shaking so much, though, that he couldn't quite steady it enough for a clean cut—a darker hand wrapped around Colin's own small one, and Rhys smiled down at him.

      Together, the larger hand reassuringly covering the smaller one and acting as a guide, they made the cut, and Colin didn't wince, but instead breathed a sigh of relief. The dagger was handed to Kael, who accepted it with barely contained enthusiasm. His calloused fingers curled about the hilt almost reverently, as if it brought back so many memories, and he made the tiny laceration on his left palm before turning it over in his hand and holding it out to Jynx.

      Two-toned eyes slowly drifted down to the outstretched hand and its offering, and Kael shook it a little to encourage her to take it. The lute-player's earlier words replayed in her mind, and her eyebrows drew together in confusion. Of course, the boys observing could only see her eyes, but they were enough to get an idea of what she was thinking. Jynx had no idea what was going on, but she certainly wasn't going to play along.

      Her lips forming a harsh line, the girl raised a hand and hit Kael's away, sending the knife tumbling to the ground at Rhys' feet. "No," she breathed.

      Kael pouted a little as he held his hand to his chest, looking up at Rhys for assistance. The brown-haired thief smiled lopsidedly as he looked down at the desert-dressed youth, "I've already said that this is not your decision. Take the Kris."

      After that, she was sure that Rhys meant her to be one of the two.

      Jynx narrowed her eyes, staring up at him with defiance, her venom-coated words muffled by her face wrap, "Kael said you only initiate those you trust not leave you."

      The older boy raised a brow, folding his arms across his chest. "That's right."

      "You," she said simply, "don't trust me."

      To her surprise, she received a short laugh from Rhys. "Right again."

      "Then why?" Jynx growled, allowing her frustration and anger to control her more than she ever had before.

      "Hm, well, of course I don't wholly trust you, but I hope that you will not betray us, that you will stay with us. I believe that the only way to realize that hope is to make you one of us, trusting to be trusted," the master thief replied, almost offhandedly, then bent over and scooped the dagger from the grassy ground, holding it by the metal with his thumb and index finger pressed together.

      Jynx eyed him warily, and Rhys held the Kris out to her with the hilt facing her. All she had to do was accept it, cut her palm, and then the pressure would be gone—but, what would happen after? What was the purpose of it?

      "Take it," Rhys insisted, his wild hair falling over his eyes as he leaned down a little, his expression somehow managing to be both determined and amused at the same time.

      Just as Jynx was about to refuse again, Kael spoke up from her right. The circle of boys, who had been watching in silent interest, immediately focused on the redhead. Kael looked up at Rhys with a strange, unidentifiable emotion on his face as he carelessly leaned back on the grass, his weight supported by his uninjured hand extended behind him. "He can't, Rhys."

      The master thief blinked, focusing on the lute-player whose fingers were threading through the springy grass as he sat in silence. Jynx felt a surge of hope, that maybe Kael was defending her, and that he might help her escape later. Rhys didn't look especially worried about one of his thieves challenging his word, and instead asked simply, his voice neutral, "Why not, Kael?"

      "Because," Kael began, pushing out of his relaxed pose and shifting into a cross-legged position, "we don't know his name. How can we initiate him if we don't know his name?"

      Jynx's hopes shattered at that, and it only served to crush them further when Kael looked over at her pointedly, a wide smile on his lips.

      "You're right!" Rhys chuckled, withdrawing the proffered Kris and grinning down at her. "So, tell us, what are you called by?"

      Jynx pursed her lips, strings of thoughts running through her mind. If she didn't tell them, then she couldn't be forced to join them, right? Besides, she had no idea if her name was feminine sounding enough to raise suspicions. Or, worse still, what if they traced her back to the church by her name? No, that wouldn't do. So, she did the reasonable thing—she refused to answer, staring up at the taller youth rebelliously.

      "Come now," Rhys all but purred, toying with the dagger in his hands, "Don't be difficult. We only want a name, just a name to call you by. Tell us."

      In return, Jynx only shook her head and frowned. She wasn't one to be easily swayed, and something about being given an order just made her want to disobey it.

      "Re—" the green-eyed boy began, but whatever he was going to say was cut off by a soft, icy tone.

      "Rhys, stop." Jynx whipped about to stare at Aren, who was seated to her left, staring down at his hands with feigned interest as he picked at the material of his fingerless gloves after speaking.

      "What?" Rhys queried, his brows drawn together in confusion as he watched the albino.

      Aren shook his head a little, a twisted smile on his pale lips as he said in a tone that sounded bitterly amused, "If he doesn't want to tell you his real name, then give him a new one. After all," the smile stretched into a full-fledged smirk, and he lifted his gaze to bear heavily upon on Rhys, an eerie glimmer in his red eyes, "it's not as if you haven't done so before."

      That was twice that Aren had saved her, and both times there seemed to be a hidden meaning to his words.

      Silence followed, each boy watching the scene with bated breath as their unofficial leader and the albino stared at one another. Rhys broke first, letting out a short chuckle as he shook his head, "Too true, too true. All right, then," and he turned away, lifting his arms to gesture around at them all, "we need a name, a name for our fledgling. Something suitable, something fitting."

      Several boys began to whisper to one another, presumably exchanging ideas. Jynx watched it all with a certain sense of shock—everything was moving so quickly and following such bizarre paths that she found herself hard pressed to generate new emotions for each odd occurrence.

      "A bird, a flower, a place, a person—come, m'boys, think!" Rhys encouraged merrily, waving the Kris around at each seated boy dramatically.

      It was too much. Nervousness and panic flooded through her, though she didn't know why, and her only coherent thought was a command for her to get away from this. Clenching her fists at her side, she pulled herself to her feet abruptly, intent on making a break for it, but her motions were mirrored by a boy opposite of her in the circle.

      Bailey stared back at her challengingly, as if he was daring her to attempt to run, as if he would enjoy catching her if she did. And if he was as fast as Rhys claimed him to be, then he would have no trouble catching her, she knew. Her eyes narrowed, and she hesitantly lowered herself back to the grassy ground, watching as Bailey also seated himself once more.

      Rhys grinned a little, enjoying both acting as the center of attention and seeing that Jynx had decided that running was not such a good idea. "A name, a name! No thoughts, no ideas? Come, I thought you guys were mo—"

      "Chameleon." The single word cut through the scattered whispers and Rhys' strong voice alike, causing silence to fall once more. Aren smirked a little as he traced a nonsense pattern over his black-material covered palm, he and Jynx being the only two who didn't cut their hands yet.

      "Chameleon?" Rhys repeated thoughtfully, running his thumb over his bottom lip, "Yes, Chameleon, Leon for short. It's perfect, eagle. Now," he stepped closer to Jynx, dropping into a squat before her, and extended the Kris to her once more.

      Somehow, it felt … right to be given a new name by the two boys, and that realization frightened her immensely. Staring down at the blade, the shiny metal of the tip smeared with little droplets of blood, she made her decision.

      "I said no," Jynx argued, leaning away from him a little and refusing to take the dagger.

      What happened next surprised her so much that she found herself temporarily paralyzed, unable to protest what was happening. Aren's hand shot out, grasping hers by the wrist in a gentle but firm hold, and lifting her hand up in front of him. His strange eyes locked on hers, and he relieved Rhys of the dagger with his free hand.

      "Eagle?" Rhys said, his tone reflecting his confusion and surprise, but the albino didn't respond, his expression remaining apathetic.

      Jynx could only watch as the pale boy spread her hand out before him, placing the point of the blade in the center of her palm and tearing the flesh in a tiny cut with a swift jerk. He dropped her hand back into her lap, and she stared at her wounded palm with a dumbfounded expression, a vague stinging feeling spreading around the slit just as the scarlet liquid was.

      Aren peeled off his glove of one hand, giving himself the same mark that everyone else now bore before dropping the Kris onto the grass before him. The droplets of blood that formed on his palm stood out against his pale flesh more starkly than it did against the others' dark skin, and Jynx noticed with a sort of morbid fascination that the vivid color matched his eyes.

      "Welcome to the family at last, kid," Rhys smiled down at Colin as he extended his hand. The younger boy's eyes were shining with happiness, and he shakily lifted his own hand in return, pressing his cut palm to Rhys'. They held the position for a few moments, Rhys kneeling down on the grass before the blonde boy, before the master thief finally pulled away.

      Colin was beaming up at him, and the elder reached forward with his uninjured hand to ruffle the child's hair warmly as he pulled himself to his feet. Jynx's heart sank as the master thief turned to face her, approaching with slow, measured steps. When at last he stood in front of her, he didn't bother to kneel like he had with Colin, but instead bent over a little and reached out his hand, his green eyes challenging her to defy him now.

      Her resolve began to crumble under his weighty gaze, and resignation and a peculiar sense of peace descended over her when the boy reached out with his other hand, grasping her cut one and lifting it. Their palms pressed together, and when he released his hold on her wrist, she didn't bother to draw away. Their blood mingled, their flesh pressed together, his strong hand bracing her much smaller one.

      It was done, there was nothing else she could do.

      Rhys grinned and winked at her, speaking in a quiet tone, "Welcome to the family, Chameleon. You're truly one of us now."

      He drew his hand away slowly, and straightened up, her hand falling limp to her side. "And now we seal it. Our promise to them, in our blood," he spoke, his voice once more at full volume and cutting through the clearing with ease.

      In a manner that made Jynx think that this ceremony was rehearsed, each boy turned to the one sitting next to him and joined their injured hands in various fashions. Kael shifted to look at Colin, and the smaller boy smiled shyly as Kael grasped the tiny hand and whispered something to him.

      That left her with … him.

      Nervously, her mismatched eyes flitted to the boy sitting to her left, only to see him staring at her. She didn't dare turn to face him fully, lest he take it as an invitation to participate in the ritual with her, but it seemed that he didn't care whether he was invited to take her hand or not. For the second time, the albino reached forward and curled his fingers about her wrist, drawing her wounded hand up before him and pulling on her arm enough to get her to turn to face him.

      Aren wasn't grinning, nor was he frowning—no, his lips formed a perfectly straight, neutral line as he lifted his own hand, a small pool of blood having formed in the center, and pressed it up against her own. The contact was fire … intimidating, threatening ... and yet, welcoming as well.

      Instead of pressing their fingers against each other as Rhys had done, he fitted his between hers and then gripped her hand, pressing their palms together tightly. His grip was tight, his fingers curled to hold her there while hers remained straight, and she distantly noticed the definite contrast between their flesh tones. Jynx could practically feel her blood mixing with his, spreading the red stain over their palms, and she knew, in a flash, that there really was no turning back, that things would never again be as they once were.

      A slow smirk, one that held so many emotions that she couldn't even begin to understand, caught the corners of Aren's lips as he leaned closer. The girl could feel his warm breaths against her skin, soft puffs of air landing upon her cheeks as he whispered a phrase, almost a challenge, intended for her ears only, "One of us, now and forever."


            Author's Note: *cough* Jynx and company get HIV. x.x Sorry, not really, I just couldn't resist. ^^() Heh, I have absolutely no idea where the initiation ceremony-thing came from. o.O Oh, and I do know that a cut on the palm wouldn't heal easily, and that it is more likely to get in infected. No worries, it'll all be dealt with. ^.~

            I'm not even going to get into how much I want to beat this chapter with a stick. o.x I hope you guys enjoyed, though. Oh, and I kind of thought of "Leon" as being pronounced "Lee-yun," with the last syllable kind of blended in, as it's really only supposed to be a shortened version of "Chameleon," but think of it however you want.

            I loved hearing everyone's favorite characters! ^^ I'd still love to hear who your favorites are, in case events in the story change your views. That goes for favorite pairings as well, hehe. ^_^

            As I said, I'm going to try not to put this story on hiatus, but I thought it was fair to warn you guys. All of your reviews meant a lot to me, especially the late ones that made me feel guilty for not updating and kicked me into writing. -^.^- I don't have time to write individual responses this time, so I hope you guys will understand how much your encouragement means to me, and that I do read each and every review and they really brighten my day. ^_^  I promise comments next time!

            Thanks and hugs go out to: El Lobo, Ninth One, Crystal Phoenix, Giglio-Bianca, Maharanjoni, San24, Brenna, Darke Angel, yOuCaNtToUcHmE, krissa amberia, Yaoi-Sonata, Garnet_Marionette, Cassi [ 127! *cheers* ^.^ ], Angelgirlie805 [ Jynx is about 15 years old. ^^ ], Snolive, hells, Raal the Sword Master, FroGgy, EmeraldSkies, Lyd, Laughing Cat [ .. *glomps* ^.^;; ], vegaofthelyre, goodshiplollypop, Miss Mei [ o.O? Ah! ^.~ ], Lady Phoenix Gryffindor, starsignLeo, AnglBabe, Lisa, Intuition, Songofthewind, Bay710, and anyone I might have missed. Thanks, guys.

            You know what's strange? I had the sudden urge to write a side-story for Kael's or Bailey's past. o.o Heh. Well, see you guys next chapter, and I'll try to update much faster. ^.^

            Please review?