"No! No! No!" The weaponsmaster yelled in frustration, "SWING the sword in an arc! Come on, boy!"

The boy's sharp-featured face was drenched in sweat due to the morning exertions. His slender frame seemed ill-fit to be wielding a broadsword, but his face flushed with determination. He swung the blade up and attempted to bring it down in a strong arc as he was shown. He almost accomplished this, but instead of completing the curve, the blade fell with a clatter to the cobblestone. "Lady Urias' arse!" The boy spat out a curse.

"Falen! I've told you not to curse!" The weaponsmaster, Kanet, glared at his errant pupil.

Falen returned the glare defiantly, "The soldiers curse far worse than that!"

Kanet knocked the boy down with a single swing of his massive hand, "When you learn to fight like a soldier, I'll let you curse like one!"

Falen's slender fingers arched like claws, and he nimbly sprang to his feet, "Merciful Aikin! Why'd you bowl me over like that?"

"It seems to be the only was I can knock some sense into that hard head of yours! You know better than to show disrespect toward me! Damn you to Lenikx! Get out of here!" Kanet's face was nearly purple with anger.

The boy kicked the fallen broadsword at the hilt then took off running. Falen raced through the woods, winding his way through the trees. When at last he stopped, the air burned in his lungs. He collapsed against the base of a large oak, and his chest heaved.

As he caught his breath he looked at his surroundings. He had never traveled this far into the forest before, and he realized that he was quite lost. "Aikin damn it! Lost in the fucking woods without so much as a dirk for a weapon!"

A slender figure stepped out of the shadows, "Quite a vocabulary for a mere babe."

Falen looked up sharply at the stranger, "Mere babe?!" he cried indignantly, "I'm fifteen summers!"

The stranger's cat-like eyes crinkled at the corners, and a melodic laugh emerged from his narrow lips, "As I said, a mere babe! Though I DID take you to be younger than you are. Pretty scrawny for a male of your race."

Fallen looked at the mysterious person quizzically, "What do you mean 'my race?' And who are you?"

The man laughed again, "Call me Kya'met. I mean that you are skinny for a human male."

The boy opened his mouth as if to speak, then quickly shut it. He eyed Kya'met warily, then finally spoke, "You're one to talk. You are as skinny as I am!"

Kya'met chuckled, "Indeed I am, boy, but I'm an elf. I'm supposed to be more slender than a human."

Falen stared open-mouthed at Kya'met. His gaze moved upward, and he noticed his new acquaintance's pointed ears for the first time.

"Pick up your jaw, child! It won't do you any good if you damage it by letting in trail on the ground!"

Falen's mouth snapped shut with an audible 'snap.' Then he started to talk again, "You...you're an..."

"Elf," Kya'met finished for him. He grinned, "What's the matter? You act as if you've never seen one of my race before."

The boy shook his head, and his blond hair fell into disarray. "I thought elves were just fanciful creatures from fireside tales!"

"Well, either you ate some funny mushrooms, or I'm real." The elf's sharp teeth caught the sun's bright rays, and they seemed, to Falen, to resemble a cat's pointed fangs. "Are you just going to to stand there and stare?"

Falen quickly averted his eyes from Kya'met, and he stammered, "S-sorry. D-didn't mean to st-stare...just never seen an elf."

Kya'met's mouth spread into a broad grin, "You don't have to look so scared, kid, I don't bite...too hard!"

Falen took a step backward, "Y-you were just joking...right?"