"Quicker."

Adrian ducked, then sprang upwards, cleared the log with impressive room to spare, and turned back on Jesse, who also wielded a sword, and he actually knew how to use it. Maybe more importantly, he wasn't too afraid to use it. He swung his weapon, and Adrian slithered out of his reach.

"Offensive," Jesse snapped, one of his oh-so-helpful one-word tidbits of advice. "You're not a kitten without his mother. Offense."

Adrian stopped breathing to swallow and almost choked on his own saliva. He let the sword tilt back and forth again in his grip to get the feel of it – his grandma had swung it so easily, no one would have thought it to so difficult, but it was. Which made him wonder where his grandma had been trained with a sword. He thrust the tip at Jesse, who always seemed to jump aside before Adrian had even planned anything.

"Stronger," Jesse demanded.

Adrian was wheezing. "Jesse," he panted.

"What?"

"How much do you know about girls?"

Jesse halted for a moment, curving his eyebrows in towards his nose. "Don't think about girls when you're fighting, Adrian. It's a bad idea." He tried to poke his student, but Adrian fluttered out of reach.

"I'm serious."

Jesse sighed, mounted the log, and was soon poised high above Adrian, ready to start kicking. "It depends on what kind of girl."

Adrian dropped out of reach and tried to slice at Jesse's ankles. "There are different kinds?"

"Well, you know," Jesse articulated, dancing with the sword above his head. "The annoying girl, or the emotional girl, the angry girl, the drooling girl – though I can't imagine you have much experience with those-"

Adrian got in a blow to Jesse's ribs.

"…the interesting girl…"

"You know about all those kinds of girls?"

Jesse laughed, but he was starting to work for his breath. "There's many more kinds than that. Which one are you concerned with?"

"The sisterly kind."

"Avila?"

Adrian had hoped it wouldn't be quite that obvious, but then, what other sister did he have? What other female contact did he have at all? Ember, but it's difficult to think of a person as fully female (or even human) when all she does is give information on the people she wants killed. Jesse jabbed him in the shoulder. "Yeah. What do you know about that kind of girl?"

"Nothing worth knowing." He tipped off the log, and Adrian mounted it in a single jump."

"How do I get her to go back to Berouvolle with me?"

"You can't."

"What?" Adrian's foot slipped, and he swung his arms behind him in a ridiculous windmill motion, but he didn't lose his balance entirely, not yet.

"Well, there's that covenant, for one thing. Both of you made that, and if you break it…" Jesse also leaped onto the log, looking menacing. "You're in trouble. Plus, she has a boyfriend, and you know he won't be going anywhere."

"But she's my sister!" Adrian tried to return the evil glare.

"There comes a point when that can't matter anymore."

"Can't? Or doesn't?" He pushed Jesse back along the log with his sword, metal on metal, blade on blade, man against the uncomfortable age that no one knows what to call. Man? Child? Neither.

Jesse held his ground. "Does it matter?"

In the excitement, Adrian bit down on his tongue hard enough to draw blood, and warrant a squeak of pain, which he (fortunately) swallowed just in time. It didn't go down easy. "So what am I supposed to do?"

"Stay here?"

"Here? In some town that I don't know the name of that's liable to get sucked up by the ocean like one long, wet noodle?"

"No, with the gypsies."

The blood tasted like a nail slathered in lemon juice. Neither competitor dared jump off the log – the battle had suddenly become territorial. "Not much better, if you ask me. No offense."

"Then go back to Berouvolle," Jesse suggested blandly. He pushed Adrian back to his own side, getting in a painful blow to the student's hip.

"Without Avila?"

"She's not such a little girl anymore, you know."

Adrian ground his teeth, choking up on the hilt of his sword. "Why does everyone keep saying that? She's only fourteen!"

"And you're only seventeen," Jesse countered. "Who's to say-"

"Don't take her side!" Adrian snapped. He swung his weapon madly at his opponent.

"I'm not taking her side. I'm explaining you out of your ignorance."

With a loud grunt, Adrian sprang forward and swung the flat of the sword against Jesse's exposed ribs, sending the stout man tumbling into the grass, so tall that it obscured his body completely. He went down soundlessly, and Adrian stood erect and motionless on top of the log, too stunned to breathe. Really? Was this happening? Was Jesse truly down in the grass because of him? His shoulders began to heave, and he declared, "I'd rather be ignorant than lonely."

Slowly, Jesse rose out of the grass like a phantom. The long, fluttery stalks bristled gently against the hems of his tunic – can't spot a snake in grass like that. If Avila's hair was green and yellow, it would look like this. "Adrian," he said, his voice ready to crescendo.

"Huh?" Adrian panted.

"You're not so useless after all."

(Author's note: my absolute favorite quote from this chapter – "I'd rather be ignorant than lonely." Now, at the risk of sounding desperate, there's a very useful button right below this… ~not Ross)