The boy was late.

Rayal stood still beside a display of newspapers and pretended to read the headline of the one nearest to him as he waited. The newspaper stand was situated just outside of the post office, and made or a convient place for Rayal to wait for his wayward student. It wasn't unusual for Stae to get caught up in the bookstore, and usually Rayal was content to buy a paper and read it while he waited. But today, something was off. Stae was taking even longer than usual, or maybe it was just Rayal's own impatience. All day he'd had the feeling of something being overdue and no matter how quickly he moved from one task to the next, he couldn't seem to shake it.

Something was wrong, and he didn't like the idea of Stae being on his own under such circumstances. The boy might be old enough now to live outside of his parents house, but he was still little more than an infant compared to Rayal and hardly as capable or experienced at defending himself. Not the way Rayal was. Rayal had had years of experience wandering in and out of the seediest parts of each country in this godforsaken little world. And most of those times he'd been completely alone, with no one to watch his back. He'd learned quickly how to spot trouble from a mile away and how to take it down. Stae didn't have the benefit of such an education. And even though there wasn't much in Dettloff that could cause Rayal to worry, Rayal was also old enough to know that anything that could go wrong, would go wrong.

And he had a really bad feeling about today.

With a curse, he spun on one heel and stalked away from the paper stand towards the bookstore. He knew he shouldn't have brought them into town for Market Day. It could have waited one more blasted day.

He stalked through the afternoon crowd, his heels cracking sharply against the sidewalk as the other pedestrians quickly got out of his way. As the bookstore came into view, he managed to spot his assistant. For as shy of a child as Stae had been, he'd grown up into a young man both capable and confident enough to stand separated from his peers. He'd learned quickly how to keep his emotions to himself and how to listen to both what was and what wasn't said without expression. The last thing Rayal expected was to see him standing in the middle of the street, wide-eyed, slack jawed and flushed from his cheeks to the tips of his ears.

Rayal cursed again and quickened his pace. This was it. This was what had been hanging over his head all day. And he fully intended to unleash all of his frustration and ire down on whoever had dared to start something with his student. The lanky boy beside Stae didn't look like the likely cause. If anything, Stae had was holding himself in front of the other boy. No, not just any boy, but a Centran. Even from this far away, Rayal could see it and feel it. Someone only a few years older than Stae was, but out here in strange lands.

Rayal was so focused on the first two boys that he nearly ran over the third. As it was, he only managed to pull himself to a stop just short of touching distance. The wind whipped up from behind him, sending his bound hair streaming out in front of him and pulling at his coat as if to drag him forward.

The young man in front of him barely reached Rayal's chin, which made it easy to watch as thin shoulders suddenly went taunt with tension. As the wind pulled at messy bright fake red hair, the young man's head turned slowly. Immediately, Rayal realized that this was his problem, right here. This was what had delayed Stae and put the other young man on guard. This was what had disrupted his entire day. As eyes as green as spring grass turned to face him, Rayal felt what seemed like a beast roaring up from within, filled with something hot and burning and crackling like raw energy. Something both very, very familiar and absolutely infuriating, like a half forgotten nightmare returned to ruin his peace of mind. Infuriating, wretched, vile, damned brat!

"Who the hell are you and just what do you think you're doing?" Rayal snarled out as he leaned over the brat. He just couldn't believe it. This little twerp was trying to bully his student. It went beyond unacceptable. He'd send the little Muritor bastard crying home to his useless Muritor mother. Oh, he wouldn't put a mark on the boy, but he planned on putting the fear of something bigger, better and badder into him. He'd teach him a lesson the boy would not soon forget!

For a moment, the boy seemed to understand the kind of trouble he was in. He took one half- step back, his face blanched of all color and those stupid green eyes were so wide it was hard to see anything else. And then, like a light switch it was gone. As if all common sense had suddenly deserted the idiot, the boy narrowed his eyes, squared his shoulders and glared back at Rayal. "Fuck you," he spat out, twisting the words around in his mouth until they came out with twice as much crass and not a bit less rancor. "None of your damn business is what, you stupid overgrown ass. Why don't you back the fuck off and go fuck yourself."

The tall blond sucked in a gasp of air so quickly he looked faint. "Ali!" he hissed, properly horrified.

Rayal didn't waste much time thinking about him, however, not when he had this little shit in front of him to deal with. "Despicable little twit. Is that pathetic excuse for vitriol the only thing your infinitesimal mind can manage? Obviously, someone's failed to properly drum some manners into your delinquent hide. Maybe we ought to take this matter up with the local authorities. I'm sure someone with such a charming personality is intimately familiar with them."

"Elder Rayal, it's really not - "

"Oh, yes, let's," the boy snapped back. "Delightful idea. Maybe you can explain to them what the hell happened to my friend. Or maybe why your ugly ass face is in my space. Or your pissy attitude. What's the matter, didn't get your daily jollies off harassing the locals, you gotta come over here and start shit with me? Sorry, gramps, but I'm not interested. I like my men a little less geriatric and a little less, you know, assholeish."

Someone snorted sharply from beside them. "Oh, I don't know about that, Ali," a soft feminine voice rang out. "Last time I checked you did kind of like them on the old side and was it or was it not the last three boyfriends who ended up needing bloody noses at one point or another? I think that counts as pretty assholeish. Hello, sir," she said, switching gears from the redhead to Rayal as she stepped up beside them. She was almost as tall as he was, was wavy should length blond hair, streaked blue, purple and a garish bright yellow. It matched her tied-dyed dress, however, and looked more elegant than ridiculous. She smiled brightly at him, all bright pink lips and pale blue eyes. "I'm Kath Gossan." She gestured quickly to the brunette man waiting several steps behind her. "This is my cousin Trivan Gossan. A pleasure to meet you. Fair day and peace be with you, of course. I'm afraid I've missed your name."

"Rayal," he answered, because really, what else could he do? It wasn't ever day that a strange Centran walked up to him and she'd been nothing but polite. Plus it bothered him that he took a little too much pleasure in hearing her calling the brat to task. It wasn't like he hadn't already figured out that the boy was a liar of little dignity. That part wasn't news to him.

"Delightful," she replied before swiftly moving on. "I take it our friend Ghent is none the worse for wear?" she asked the boy as she smoothly moved between the two of them.

"Che," he hissed before letting her pull him away. "I hadn't even gotten the chance to ask before this asswipe showed up and started barking at me like a fucking dog."

"Ghent, love? You seem sad," she called out to the lanky boy beside Stae.

The young man managed to raise his head enough to give her a smile in return. "I'm fine. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cause trouble."

"Of course not. I'm sure it's all Ali's fault."


"Just accept it. I'm your best friend and I know what I'm talking about."

"As if. Triv's my best friend. You're just the annoying little cousin that wouldn't leave us alone."

"And I'm now the one pulling your ass out of the frying pan more often than not so shut the fuck up, dearest."

Rayal clenched his teeth through the display of childish antics. Stae seemed to have calmed down significantly and was watching the group of them interact with the same intensity he showed when observing an Elder's Meeting. He'd probably be able to repeat the entire interaction word by word afterward. Which was excellent, since Rayal planned on interrogating him on the whole manner as soon as possible. For now, however, he'd had enough. "Explain yourselves," he snapped out, interrupting the endless bickering.

While the others stare at him with varying degrees of intimidation, confusion and blatant hostility, Stae immediately complied. "Elder Rayal, this is Ghent," he explained. "I met him in the bookshop. He recognized Guardian Saya's name right away. We were just discussing her dissertation."

"Then why the hell is Ghent so upset?" Ali interrupted.

"I'm not upset."

Ali glared at him. "Lair," he spat out.

And as calmly as she did anything, Kath reached up and smack the boy on the back of the head. "Keep talking to him like that, and he will be upset."

While Rayal certainly agreed that the boy deserved the hit, he was also certain that it was going to lead things to disintegrate into even more vulgar yelling and flailing. The last thing he expected was for Ali to remain calm, and almost contritely, mutter an apology.

Ghent smiled like the sun had just risen. "It's alright," he replied. "I just hadn't expected to run into other Centrans here."

And the scowl was back. "I knew there was a reason why I didn't like this stupid city," Ali grumbled.

Kath glared back at him. "Oh, you've never even been to Dettloff before."

"Yeah, and there's a reason for that," he said before turning to level one very sharp, nasty looking glare in Rayal's direction.

Oh, really. He answered it with his own best sneer. "For someone who seems to object to a Centran presence so strongly, you certainly keep interesting company, Muritor."

It was more effective than he thought it would be. While the rest of his little friends pale in response, Ali blinked once, long and slow, as if he didn't even understand the insult. The only problem was he then barked out a harsh laugh. "You really are dumb as shit, aren't you?"

Rayal's eyes narrowed. "Oh, please, do care to enlighten me. I must say I can hardly keep up with your convoluted capacious notion of logic."

"I am Centran, you shithead."

Ridiculous. Really, it went beyond absurd. There hadn't been a Centran born with anything other than blue eyes since the rise of the First Dumnezeu. Besides, there was no way Rayal could get so close to another Centran and not realize it. He'd be able to sense the same hum of energy that all of them gave off from a block away. There was no way this little twerp was anything close to a Centran. Except – except he couldn't deny it. His mouth opened, but he couldn't get the words to come out. It was impossible, but he knew it was true.

It took a moment for that to fully sink in, and when it did, he felt like throwing up. There was only one way he could think of for a Centran child to be born with such deformities. He'd been told many times that while highly unusual, it was not impossible for a Centran to bond with a Muritor the same way the second Dumnezeu had. He just hadn't believed them. Such an abomination surely could only have happened once. But as certainly as he himself stood there, here was this foul mouthed brat of a half-Centran with his oh-so-very-green, green eyes.

They stared at each other in silence until Ali's mouth twisted up into something that only superficially resembled a smile. "Don't know everything, do ya, dickhead?"

And for one of the few times in his life, Rayal was left speechless.