Silver Nephil
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Vidimus Chapter XIII
Rome, Italy
Mid-January to Beginning of February


"So, who out of all of these people will be my Novices?"

"That, my little bird, is for you to decide."

"And how do you expect me to do that? There's gotta be, what, thirty people down there?"

"Well, little Journeyman, if you want an order, think of some method for how to choose your Novices from among them. At the start, all of them might be yours, or none of them." Jameel leaned against the doorframe, his arms folded over his chest. A slight smirk turned one corner of his lips upward. "I can give you one bit of advice on strategy: perhaps you should teach them your skills with medicine, if they're willing to attend, and your first lesson should be at least in an hour." Reaching over, he gave the Sparrow's shoulder a quick pat. "Good luck." Lex followed after him as he made to leave, stumbling as his feet met a sharply descending set of stairs to the streets.

"Jameel, what are you talking about? Jameel! Where the ******** am I supposed to get a corpse in an hour?!" As if in answer, one dropped to the ground before him, an arrow in its back. The young man looked up at the archer who stood on the roof above him.

"Will that do?" Scars asked, giving him a half smile. The poor fellow had been met by one of the night patrols Jameel had created to guard the boundaries of what little territory they held. He had wondered why the Night Master had asked him then to drag the corpse along, but now his curiosity had been satisfied. Lex jumped when a hand fell on his shoulder, whirling around. Rina held up her free hand, the other loaded with books.

"My apologies, passero. Didn't mean to startle you." She held up the books, which to Lex seemed to fit the definite of tomes to a T, and said, "I will help you with your preparations. These manuscripts should aid in your lessons, as well as those the monks have planned, and I have bought enough spiritus to conserve the remains." Lex took the books, almost falling and eating some of the paving stones, as Rina gestured to the corpse Scars had offered. "TheTemplars would soon run out of employees if you kept gathering fresh ones for teaching material."

"And I'd be out of arrows," the Owlet added as he hopped down to stand next to the two.

"Speaking of you, I need to check your stitches." Scars looked at him sideways.

"I haven't torn them, Hakim."

"Let's sit your a** down so I can check them anyway, okay, Red Arrow?" The Owlet snorted but found a place on a low wall as the Sparrow lifted his tunic and cut away the bandage around his middle. While this was being done, Orianna waved to two of the other Owlets, the group, having received the summons from their master, quickly making themselves a presence among the collected rabble as higher-ranked keepers of order. Seeing the woman calling to them, they hesitated, not used to taking orders from a female. One glare from the swordsman on the wall sent them scurry to her aid. Orianna gave him a thankful nod and hurried after the two bearing the corpse, seeing Uberto was nearing.

Uberto sighed as he neared where Lex and Scars were seated, looking at the two.

"She's been avoiding me all day."

"Have you thrown her out a window?" The two gawked at him. "Shaun said her late husband did that. Haystack was there to break the fall, of course."

The Bear gave Lex a weak smile.

"Well, suppose I should tell you that Inigo and I will be helping you with teaching. Inigo will teach those who can read and write, trying to make the familiar with other languages, and I will teach those who never got any schooling of that kind." Ignacio, who'd arrived shortly after Uberto, gave his friend a worried look.

"Relax, Uberto. You got dibs, man."

"I have what?" Uberto frowned.

"Dibs. Y'know, a claim? Rights?" Lex patted Scars side to tell him to pull his robes back down. "You don't exactly have to fight a dead man to ask if Rina wants to be your girlfriend is what I'm saying." He looked up at the monk. "And smile, man. It's weird seeing you like this. You're not Bruce Wayne." Giving the monk a slim smile of his own, he stood with the swordsman and headed to where Ignacio stood.

The Mouse shook his head, listening to the Sparrow. He looked toward the tall monk. Uberto had always helped him. When his father had sent him to join the army's ranks to make a real man of him, he had taken him under his wing and trained him. They fought side by side, knee-deep in the horrors of battle. When the nightmares shook him from his sleep after so many weeks, he was there as well, and when they finally were allowed to lay their weapons down for a time, he helped him find some peace within the walls of their monastery. But now that the time came for him to help his friend, he couldn't summon any words to his tongue. He sighed as he saw the monk following them, tugging Lex's and Scars' sleeves to get them to follow to the room that had been prepared for their first lesson.

Ignacio had begun to explain what all was in the room they were headed toward when the group stopped, hearing an ominous crackling noise. Scars' eyes widened as he grabbed the two younger men and hauled them back, a shower of debris and dust falling to the floor before them. The dumbstruck group could just make out the lumpy form of a boy, who had begun laughing, as the dust settled.

"That went better than I'd expected!" he said to no one in particular. "Wish I'd fallen a bit to the right, though."

"Who is it?" Lex looked up at Shaun, who was peering around the doorway, looking as confused as the rest of them.

"For now, he's the mailman."

"Postman. Right. Shoot the b*****d clean through for me, will you?" the Brit asked as he took off his glasses to clean the lenses on his robes.

The teen who'd fallen through the roof coughed and looked up at the others.

"Um...am I allowed up for a second?" he chuckled. Scars rolled his eyes as he lowered his hands from the other young men's arms.

"Who are you?" he demanded. The boy chuckled again, smiling as Lex reached outa hand to help him up. The Assassins' eyes widened when the Sparrow was pinned to the wall, his arm pressed against his back, a knife to his throat.

"My name is Giacomo Cacciatore. I'm an Assassin. Seems you are too." On hearing the boy's name, the Sparrow's face drained of all color, his bones turning to water. Scars was the first to react, the bold Cacciatore pinned to the dusty floor a split second later, a sharp sword at his throat and a highly angered Owlet kneeling over him.

"You deem yourself a brother among us, yet turn down a hand offered to you and put your knife to another's throat instead!"

"He was an unknown threat," the Novice spat, "so I reacted!" Scars glowered at him, then glanced over his shoulder at where the young doctor sat slumped against the wall. "Hakim?" Giacomo began to struggle beneath the Owlet's grip.

"Son of a b***h! Get off of me!" The sword pressed down harder on his bobbing Adam's apple.

"Quite the little mouth on him, hasn't he?" Shaun asked, looking down at the teen with an expression caught warring with itself over whether to be amused or not. "You all right over there, Sparrah?" The Journeyman was still where he'd fallen to a sit against the wall, his eyes fixed on the Cacciatore boy as if he was some sort of viper. No answer came to Shaun's question as Scars stood and lifted the boy to his feet. His grip never loosened, the look he gave Giacomo one of pure venom.

With a flick of his wrist, the Owlet had the Novice disarmed, though not without him protesting loudly about the taking of his father's precious blade.

"You can have it back once you've learned to distinguish a threat from a benevolent action, Novice."

"Don't do anything to my sword!"

"We won't do anything to your dinky little knife, Novice," Shaun growled. Giacomo looked at him, then glowered at the scarred man.

"So, what do I need to do for you to let me go?" He pointed to Lex. "Make him almost faint again?" His feet left the dusty ground then, his eyes level with Scars'.

"Trespass against the Creed or al Hakim and it will be a pleasure for me to end your career." The Owlet released him with a none-too-gentle shove before turning back to the Sparrow. Ignacio had already leaned down and was just then placing a hand on the other's shoulder. He broke out of his stupor with a yell and bolted to his feet. Scars gripped him by the shoulders, giving them a squeeze. He nodded to Ignacio, who took Lex by the arm, and looked at Giacomo. "And to answer your question, keeping your trap shut would be a good first step, Cacciatore, and knowing as well that that name is not too well cherished here. Perhaps heading to the others and trying to at least pretend to act like a decent Novice would serve you well. Now ******** off, before I change my mind about allowing you to leave." Both men led the Sparrow into the adjacent room Shaun had left, but not without Scars stopping to give an order to a bystanding Owlet. If that Novice tries anything, he thought as he took a seat beside his friend, the first shot will silence him.

"Thanks," said Lex, still staring into space, trying to calm himself. It's just a name. He's not related to her. It's just a coincidence. He glanced down at the clack of claws on wood, smoothing Spock's feathers as he tried to bring the roiling ball of cold in his guts back under control. The little bird chirped at him as Shaun took a seat on his other side and put a hand on his back.

"Calm down, Lex." The smaller Assassin looked at him. "The Lion's daughter didn't eat your face when she met you, did she?" He shook his head. "Nice lass, for having such a monster for a father, am I right?" He nodded. "Well, then, though the douchebaggery does seem to run in the Cacciatore bloodline, you would say that even that numpty deserves a chance, right?" Scars raised an eyebrow at Shaun's choice of words, but held his peace. Lex eventually nodded, however stiffly. The Owlet nodded, almost to himself, as he turned his gaze to the doorway.

Outside of the room, Uberto was inspecting the debris and the hole. He turned his gaze away when he saw Orianna picking up some parchment that had fallen from her arms when the Novice had chosen to drop in on them.

Before he could open his mouth to speak to her, a "Cheep!" came from above him. Uberto looked up to see Amir crouched on the edge of the hole. "Hi! I'm back! Papa Luca said I could climb on the roof." The monk shook his head and warned the boy to be careful as he picked his way over to the Nightingale.

"Do you need any help?"

The woman looked up from the writings, a little confused to see the monk standing so close to her. Her fingers played with the scarf that covered her long black hair, pushing some errant strands back into place. She studied Uberto's face, wondering how old he must be and what the man must have seen in his life for his face to bear such lines of worry, although now only the fine wrinkles that were caused by laughter were seen. She couldn't help answering the smile he was giving her with one of her own.

"If you would be so kind and help me save my books? It would be a shame if any of them were to be destroyed." Uberto set to the task, digging the tomes from the rubble. Soon all were back in their arms and, thus laden, they both made their way to the main hall of the building, passing the waiting group of Novices, listening as they went to the bevy of tongues echoing in the room.

Orianna went directly into the small room she had taken for herself, half library and half alchemical laboratory. She turned to Uberto and bowed her head. "Grazie, orso mio. Welcome to my little refuge. If you should ever need a place to seek a little rest, feel free to find it here."

"My thanks, usignolo." Uberto took a seat and studied Orianna in his turn, the voices from the other room pouring over his ears. Her usual pale skin had become an almost deathly pallor. Her fingers clenched and twirled the gold ring she wore on a chain around her neck. She started as a rough hand touched her cheek. "Are you well, Rina?" The woman nodded, barely resisting the urge to lean against the hand. The Bear stroked her cheek gently, looking her over carefully to make sure she wasn't about to faint.

"Just memories, orso mio," she said softly. Uberto nodded, carefully putting his arms around the woman and drawing her to his chest. Orianna sighed a little but gladly allowed the Bear to tighten his hug. She wasn't sure how long they sat this way, but the coal tits cheeping outside made her remember there was a world outside of them. Her hand reached up, stroking the bristled cheek before she carefully placed a kiss on it. Her other hand squeezed the one holding her up. "Come, Bear, the young ones are waiting."

"Yes," Uberto murmured, pecking her cheek in return, "we must make sure no one's killed that Novice." As if on cue from his words, he heard a shout outside the room. Sighing, he shook his head and went to see what was the cause of the commossion, the woman at his side. The brighter light blinded Rina for a moment. She shielded her eyes with a hand, squinting as her vision adjusted.

"Amir, get off him already!" Lex shouted, trying and failing to pull Amir from atop Giacomo. As soon as the Coal Tit had heard what the upstart Novice had done, he had gone on the warpath.

"No! His mother's that b***h! I'm gonna kill him!" Amir shouted in response. Scars tipped the balance in Lex's favor, looping his arms around the Sparrow's middle and helping to haul the Coal Tit off the Novice while the rest looked on. The three Assassins landed in a heap on the ground.

Scars helped Lex up, trying to keep Amir by the scruff, but he twisted, squirmed, and finally tore loose. Before he could finish pouncing on Giacomo to continue his attack, the man lying where he'd fallen, more than stunned to be assaulted by what to him looked like a ten-year-old, Uberto had taken hold of him and slung the white-robed Coal Tit across his shoulder.

Lex looked up at the monk and nodded his thanks before falling into Arabic, "Enough, Amir."

"No! He hurt you!"

"He tried, but he didn't hurt me. Scars made sure of that. Now calm down." Amir whined and folded his arms over his tiny chest as well as he could in his current position. Uberto looked at Rina, who looked back at him. The man handed the upset little boy over to her. The Nightingale hurried off with him, attempting to calm Amir's protesting cheeps. The monk then helped the rumpled Novice to his feet, which earned him nothing but a glare.

"If that woman cannot control that little b*****d of hers--" Giacomo began, but got no farther before the monk's fist sent him flying back down again.

One of the assembled Novices broke into raucous laughter that Lex found himself laughing along with. Even Scars snorted and shook his head at the way the boy's big mouth had run him right into trouble, one of his companion's levering the fallen one to his feet. Taking Uberto by the arm, the Owlet nodded to his companions, who disappeared into the crowd. Turning his gaze to the Novices, the red-clad man said, "All of you who would wish to know the arts of healing, go down this hall. It's the first door on your left."

Shaun, who'd watched the Novice all but walk into Uberto's fist, gave the monk an appreciative nod as he passed.

"Never seen a holy man haul off and cold-c**k a little shite like that. You've got a strong left, I've got to say." Uberto made no comment, only sighing and heading to the infirmary to make sure he hadn't caved the boy's face in.

Curiously, the crowd of about thirty men and women made their way to the lecture hall that had been set up in the room. One of them, a tall figure almost of a height with the Night Master, his skin dark as the other man's, but clad in the robes given new recruits, his hair blonde and in a long braid down his back, a beard on his face, waited outside the door for a few minutes. Not seeing what he expected, he shook his head and followed the others in. He raised a brow and sighed to see that only a few seats in the front were unoccupied. In order not to block the view of those behind him, he took a seat on the floor. Hearing a soft noise, he looked toward the window on his left and smiled.

"Time to show yourself, you crazy Scottish seagull." A dark-headed man with equally dark stubble lining his jaw and upper lip peered in through the window and winked at him. Climbing in, he took a seat next to the other man in one of the provided seats, using his brother's head as an armrest.

The scarred man gave the pair of men a long stare before he cleared his throat and said, "Your other instructor will be here shortly. I assume all of you have seen what happens when Novices decide to open their mouths without thinking first; Giacomo learned this the hard way, though I doubt the lot of you can beat him for a certain level of stupidity." A few snickers were heard from some of the Novices. "Now, if you'll have some patience, we'll begin shortly." The Owlet tried to keep his eyes forward, but eventually looked over the rabble: a good few women, some men, and the two in the front.

The dark-headed man hummed a little tune while he let his thoughts wander. The mixture of languages about them reminded him of the harbor he'd grown up in.

"What do ye think, brother dear? What will we have to expect?" he asked, his Italian accented with a heavy Scottish brogue. His brother sighed, giving him a little slap on the head.

"Just hope we can stay a little longer here this time. So ask me before you start selling your drawings." All heads turned as the door to the room opened. The monk that had punched the Novice unconscious came in, carrying what looked like a huge chest that smelled strongly of alcohol.

"Love the smell of formaldehyde in the morning," Lex murmured to Rina where they stood down the hall. The woman gave him a confused look. "Never mind." They watched Uberto exit, having set the chest down inside the room. The young man waited a moment, gathering his courage. This, he felt, would be worse than facing an army of Templars.

"I am sure you will be a good teacher, Passero." Rina gave him an encouraging smile. "The word spread that you saved four moribund brethren. And don't worry over the one that fell through the roof. He will not leave the infirmary too soon." Lex nodded and pocketed his hands.

Footsteps came down the hall, the tread of someone deliberately taking their time about getting somewhere. The door was shoved open. The students braced themselves.

In strolled what everyone assembled least expected: he seemed a Genoan-dressed Turk. A loose-fitting, black cotton tunic hung to his waist, the worn blue-white denim pants peering out from under it. On his feet were the boots of an Assassin, an Assassin's belt slung on his hips, his robes hanging open in almost cloak-like fashion. The boy, or beardless youth--surely this was no man--seemed lost in thought.

He spoke absently, "I wonder, could you tell me something, any of you?" He cocked his head, much like a little bird, and looked at them. "Nothing being true and everything being permitted, is life worth affirming or denying?"

The dark haired man threw his brother a questioning glance and whispered, "Tis rhetorical?" The blonde paid the Scot no mind. This what not what he'd expected. They send us a boy hardly having come of age to be called a man to instruct us? he wondered, but even as he watched him, he knew there was something not boyish at all about this person. There was a certain attitude about him, he felt, on his second look, that made him appear so much older than he was, as if he'd already lived more than one life.

"Sending us a boy to teach us Assassins' work," the Scot groaned in English, looking ceilingward, then to his brother. He added just loudly enough for the boy to hear, "The Lord tells me we are pretty much ********." The other felt the strong urge to smack him again, but restrained it in order to glance at the rest of the audience. Most of the new recruits seemed to be thinking what the Scot had muttered, remaining silent to the question their appointed mentor had asked. He closed his eyes in thought. Quite a difficult question. Our task is to save as many as possible by bringing death to a few. So both keeping and destroying life is what we're meant to do.

"I like this guy." The words cut off his musings; he opened his eyes to find the boy pointing to his brother and chuckling. "Alba gu bra, my friend. Well, since the ice's officially been broken with that lovely comment, let's get some introductions out of the way. I'd also like to know what you guys already know about the human body. Braveheart, you first."

The Scot went from smiling broadly at the boy's speaking his mother tongue--any man who spoke the tongue of his homeland had to be a good man--to beaming at the name he was given.

"The name is Stephen of Firth," he said, his accent while speaking English even stronger than Shaun's. "I have seen enough people gutted, so I know roughly what's inside of 'em, but I wouldn't have the faintest idea how to put it back again." The man being used as an armrest suppressed the urge to roll his eyes, reaching up to brush back a strand of hair that had come out of his braid. Lex's eyes flicked to his wrist where the outline of a tattoo could be seen, the faintest beginnings of a peregrine falcon.

The blonde man cleared his throat and spoke in Italian, "Roland Schifferson of Bremen. I can patch somebody up when necessary, but the more complicated operations I've always left to others." The boy stared at him long and hard, his head tilted to one side, eyes almost squinted shut.

"Ich kenne die Falken von Bremen. Gilbert und Tancred waren meine Freunde." Roland nodded dumbly, wondering how the boy could possibly have known his mother's father or his own uncle. There was no time to ask, however, as the boy had already moved on to the next person.

"My name is Elena dei Fieschi," said the girl, who looked to be about as young as the one who'd pointed to her. She wore a ragged brown shirt with a longer, lighter one beneath it along with gray pants and brown boots, her long black hair tied back from her dark face. Stephen and Roland watched as she spoke, her face reddening at the cheeks and ears. "I only know how to treat stabs and cuts, and those the shallower ones."

"How are you allowed to teach," one of the others piped up, "if you are not a Master?" The boy looked up at the speaker, one whose Italian was fluent. His skin was paler than most of the others, his eyes half-lidded in boredom or distain. "Why are we supposed to listen to a mere boy?"

"Well," said the Sparrow, "here you're going to make a decision about that question I asked before. You'll have to decide whether this profession you've chosen is worth the answer."

"I came here to use my sword on those Templar bastards, not be treated like a schoolboy."

"What's your name?"

"Hercole Aquino." The boy strode toward him, hands in his pockets. He circled his seat slowly, the other students' eyes on him.

"Hercole Aquino. Hercole Aquino. To train the body, you must train the mind, and vice versa." He looked at the other man. "From the way you talk, Signore Aquino, I doubt you've had much training in the one department." He rapped his knuckles on Hercole's head and walked back up to the front of the room. "Hollow as a drum, my friends."

Laughter filled the room. Hercole crossed his arms over his chest, glaring at the Sparrow's back. That small Turk's going to pay for that! "Which brings us to our first lesson. Where, oh, where in the human body does everything go? Uberto, Rina, please reveal what's inside chest number one?" The scent of alcohol filled the room as the two opened the chest, revealing the preserved corpse and its accompanying organs. Lex looked at the class, who sat slack-jawed and wide-eyed. Clearing his throat, he prompted lightly, "This is where you guys start taking notes."

Orianna couldn't help smiling a bit when she saw the looks on the students' faces. Nico had told her that Leonardo had said Ezio's face looked the same way when he discovered what the polymath was doing with the corpses in the back of his workshop. Most of the recruits seemed to be adjusting nicely to the situation, becoming more curious instead of pallid. At least no one had gotten sick so far.

The Nightingale placed the prepared organs on the desk so that everybody could see them. Lex picked up one of the organs and held it aloft.

"This is a heart. Located left of center in your chest. It does this." He squeezed and released his fingertips, making it pump. A little blood squished out. He saw Scars make a face in the corner of his eye. "But most of you would know this if you put a hand to your chest." He watched as a few members of the class did so. "Here, pass it around, ask some questions." He handed it to Stephen, who seemed the least squeamish of the up-front people. The Novice pointed to one side of the organ and looked at Lex questioningly. "That's the left ventricle. The other one's the right." The Scot stuck his finger through the flap atop the ventricle and giggled.

Lex turned back to grab a section of intestine, having to double take as he saw that Stephen was making as if to chomp down on the heart like an apple. "Get that away from your mouth!" This time Roland couldn't help grinning.

"Missing your beloved haggis, aren't you?" he asked as he took the organ in hand. How frail this looks, he thought as he turned it around on his palm. One stab and the owner is gone. He passed it on to the girl beside them, giving her a small smile before he turned his gaze back on his brother. Stephen was glancing from the black haired woman assisting their teacher to the remaining lengths of guts on the desk. "No, you won't ask anyone of them if they will allow you to read the future from the bowels. You know what happened the last time you asked that to a living Templar. It got very messy for both of us." Stephen pouted and gave him an I-didn't-even-do-anything-yet look.

Once the innards had circulated the room, the Sparrow said, "All right, last lesson for the day. Let's see if you all know your slaughtered Templars." Shaun leaned into the room then, waving his hand frantically. "Yes, British person?"

"I doubt any of us knows which this bloke is. Haven't seen any of the lot of 'em that look as good as him." Another smattering of laughter broke out among the Novices. Lex rolled his eyes as Badr dragged Shaun off by the back of his shirt. The students were then called up to set to work on Build Your Own Templar. Most of them placed the organs back in surprisingly correctly. Whether this was done more by luck or knowledge, the Sparrow wasn't quite sure, but he was glad to only have to make minor corrections here and there. After the others had stepped aside to wash their hands in the bowl Rina provided, Stephen moved up with Roland and the man's brain.

He looked at the brain, then at the Sparrow and Roland.

"Does he really need this back? Templar didn't make much use of it anyway, so won't he be fine without it now?"

"Yes," Lex laughed, "you have to give his brain back." The Novice sighed and reluctantly plunked the brain back into its cavity in the dead man's skull. "All right, before you all leave, time to make you hate me. Assignment number one: think of any questions and bring them either to me or Rina. She can help you with poisons, herbs, and feminine problems and I'll help you with most anything else. If I don't know something, I'll refer you to our friend Nico Valez. Okay? Okay."

"Ooh! I have one!" Stephen thrust his hand up into the air. The Sparrow laughed again and nodded. "What's your name, lad?" The Assassin gave a little wince as he watched Roland's face meet his palm.

"Lex. My name's Lex. Thanks for asking." A hand reached down and ruffled his hair then, causing him to sputter.

"A little later we'll meet again, eh, wee Sawney?"

Sighing, Roland added over his shoulder as he followed his brother to the door, "Forgive him, sayyid. Authority and my brother are things that don't mix well."

The Sparrow followed them out, Spock on his shoulder. He couldn't say what made him do it, other than a strong desire simply to do it.

Some of the new Novices had gathered around a training ring, which he realized from the faint smell of damp earth in the air was either belowground or near water, or both. The bolder Novice, Hercole, was in the ring fighting against a smaller, thinner opponent. The fight wasn't going to last long, the Journeyman could see, the smaller's stamina already flagging. The smaller was quick, evading most of the blows, but eventually her strength wore down and his fist met her face, knocking her onto her back. Her hood fell back, revealing the dark haired girl from his class.

"That's all? Ha! It's a wonder those stab wounds you talked about weren't all yours!" Hercole jeered.

"You want some of them to be yours?" The crowd parted, allowing Lex through to the edge of the training ring. He hopped the fence and waited as the Novice walked over to him.

"I could take you, teacher"--he spat the word--"and bend you over my knee where you stand." He looked up at the others. "Who else wants a Turkish rug for their sleeping quarters?" Lex reached up and wiped the spittle from his face.

"Go ahead. Do it. Let's see if you can."

Before the Novice could raise a hand, he felt a tap on his left shoulder. Turning, he said, "What do you want, a*****e?" The rest of the words died in his throat as he came face to face with the Scotsman from the class, who was giving him a manic grin, which matched that of the bleached-white skull he was holding perfectly.

"Just wondering if you'd be interested in knowing that future of yours? Me is pretty good in reading intestines." The Novice let loose a scream then fit to raise the rest of the skeleton to join the skull Stephen held, or at least deafen half the audience. While the idiot screamed, the blonde German helped the girl up and motioned for her to stand aside. He then turned to Hercole.

"Had your fun, didn't you? See if you can get along in a fight with someone who's more your height." Hercole clamped his mouth shut, looking between the three men. Finally, he strode to Roland and threw a straight punch at him. The German blocked it, lifted him up, and tossed him bodily into the crowd beyond the fence. Roland popped his neck and went toward him again. The Novice scrambled up, screaming, "Get these madmen away from me!"

The Sparrow watched him run toward the infirmary door before he turned to the other three. They were busily munching away on some apples, which Stephen explained as having been borrowed, since no one's name was on them to claim ownership. Leaning on the fence after being handed a fruit of his own, Lex intoned, " 'Alas, poor York, I knew him well,' or am I mistaken with this fine gentleman?"

Stephen grinned and lifted the skull.

"Old William told me the wee fledgling needed to learn another lesson today. And since you occupied us that whole time today, thought humble me could learn him."

"Old William is the reason he isn't on that island over the sea anymore," Roland added with a laugh. "He was some soldier who messed with him."

Stephen nodded. "But we have become friends over the years, ol' Willy and me. We sometimes have our arguments, but we get along well." The skull disappeared into the bag slung over the Scot's shoulder. Spock chirped and tugged at some of Lex's hair, flapping his wings as Uva landed on the bag, tugging at the string.

"Hakim." Lex looked over to where Scars stood. "The Night Master would like a word with us."