Note: I'm baaaaaack! I know, it's been absolutely forever, but I'm back to writing now. I just got my computer out of the hospital after it came down with a very nasty ETD (electronically transmitted disease), and I've been sorting through some very complicated family stuff, and then I fell way behind in school and had to play catch-up, but it's the start of the new quarter, and I'm back in action and ready to make up for lost time. So hold on tight, here comes the goods!

Further Note: Okay, about this story...It's actually number four in the Farlands Quartet, but you don't really have to read the others since the only connection is this guy named Feldin. Actually, I haven't even written the others yet. I mean, I started them, but...Never mind. Anyway, if you're interested, keep an eye out for the first three books: Fires of War, Winds of Change, and Sea of Opportunity. They'll show up on my profile page eventually. Okay, now...on to the story...

Chapter One

"Now, now, children, quiet down now." Prim, delicate little Mitress Helda fluttered her paws in dismay at her rambunctious class. The students shared knowing smiles at her feeble attempts to rein them in, but they settled down anyway. Mistress Helda had proven herself to be a gentle old lady with a kind heart, and the children generally liked and respected her. A small group in the back corner of the room continued to converse quietly amongst themselves, and the elderly kalir shot them an exasperated frown, whiskers twitching, but said nothing. "Today I would like to introduce a certain special someone. He will only be with us for a very short time, but I hope that you will all learn a great deal from him. Now, if you would all show the proper respect and give a very warm welcome to Master Gaelwyn."

A smattering of applause circled the room as a tall, slender human swept through the open door. He bowed elegantly and shot a withering glare at the talkative corner. "I am pleased to meet you. All of you." He shot the girl in the center of the conversation another meaningful look that she either failed to noticed or utterly ignored. A bit put off, Gaelwyn cleared his throat politely and attempted to establishe eye contact with the chattering student. When this method failed and a tiny ripple of stifled giggling swept over the class, the stately man clucked his tongue in annoyance. "Excuse me. Yes, you. The halfling girl. Yes, you're the one. Don't give me that look, young lady. I do believe Mistress Helda requested a display of proper respect a while ago. Do you think yourself above the rules the others must follow?"

The halfbreed child grinned cheekily, revealing a pair of slightly elongated canines. "Of course not, Master Windy-Gills. I am giving you all the respect you deserve." She resumed her conversation, her large, leathery, emmorian wings flicking dismissively against the skinny back she turned on him.

Nervous laughter escaped a few students as the visiting human colored a bit. But he maintained his composure and even inclined his head politely. "Which is just as well, I suppose. I would be greatly dishonored were I to earn the respect of such an ignorant child." The halfling girl whirled around, an ugly snarl twisting her young features. She stuck out her long, emmorian tongue in a very unbecoming manner, but Gaelwyn ignored her and continued as though she had not responded at all. "As for the rest of you, I think today's lesson would best be taught out of doors. Shall we?" He indicated the open door to the classroom.

The children whooped in excitement and began to file out, eager to get out of the stuffy school building. Gaelwyn watched them go, but snagged the back of the halfling's shirt as she moved to follow. He found her to be surprisingly light when he pulled her back out of the stream of students.

"Not you. You stay here. Alone."

The child's jaw dropped open, and the thin brows above her slit-pupiled eyes nearly joined over her delicate nose. "What? You can't leave me in here!"

"Watch me," Gaelwyn replied icily as he backed out of the room on Helda's heels. He snapped the door shut in the girl's face and held the latch for just a moment. Then he released it and walked away. The halfling pulled the latch with all the strength she could muster, but try as she may, it refused to budge.


Flustered and seething, Melona stomped around the empty classroom several times before she flopped down in her desk in the rear. Her wings quivered with the force of her irritation. No one had ever out-witted her before, the ease with which this ill-mannered stranger did so chafed her raw. She felt as though she had been run through a flour mill, dunked in a freezing river, and hung out to dry in the blistering sun. Burning anger raged through her mixed blood, and she shook her head fiercely. How could he have bested me? I'll get him back for this! I will!

Melona stood abruptly and crossed to the window. If she could just get it open, maybe she could spread her wings and float down to the yard. She could see the others from here, but the heavy window resisted her best efforts, and she slumped down on the wide sill, staring forlornly out at her fellow classmates two stories below. They gathered eagerly around the charming stranger, who had produced a whole slew of musical instruments. As Mel watched, he moved to each one, demonstrating how to play it and giving a brief concert. The other children laughed and danced to his songs, songs that Mel could not hear through the thick glass of the classroom.

Suddenly, all the angry energy flooded from Melona's small body, and she stared down at her lap. Nimble emmorian hands stared back up at her, the backs covered in a thin coat of dochian fur. Mel flexed her fingers. Sharp little claws emerged from the end of each. The girl sighed heavily. She hated watching other people do things. For too long, that had been all she was able to do. The other students had not been particualrly pleasant company when she first arrived at the Keep. They had teased her a great deal about her mixed heritage, so she had generally avoided them, sticking to the comforting shadows and simply looking on as they played and interacted with each other. After years of observation, however, she had finally figured it out, and from that moment on, she had been the center of attention, always doing while everyone else looked on. It felt much better to be in the middle of things than to be left out of them.

But now, here she ways, standing outside the circle once more, merely watching as everyone else acted. Mel swallowed past a growing lump in her throat and clenched her hands into fists. That Gaelwyn guy was going to be sorry for this. Her claws pricked her palms, drawing tiny drops of blood.