Numair Salmalín gazed up into the part of the sky unobstructed by the trees in the Royal Forest, and saw two shapes in the sky. "Alanna, don't those look a bit big to be normal birds to you?" He asked his companion with a frown.

Alanna looked up from watering her horse. "It's hard to tell, really, from this distance, but definitely too big for birds. Maybe another species of immortal, goddess bless." She cursed.

The mage and the lady knight watched the shapes as they grew larger and swooped downward. Numair noticed the shapes' proportions were odd, before they disappeared into the treetops.

Alanna knit her eyebrows, violet fire glowing on her hands as she prepared to use magic. She had nearly lit up the forest with purple light to find the strange threats when two figures walked into the clearing. They were a boy and a girl. Both looked around the age of sixteen, with hard looks in their eyes and the grimy clothes of soldiers on the move.

The girl met Alanna's eyes. "Who are you?" She asked harshly, weariness showing in her face and making her look much older.

Alanna remembered her manners and greeted, "Alanna of Pirate's Swoop and Olau, King's Champion of Tortall, and Numair Salmalín, mage of the realm of Tortall."

Numair studied the two with the curiosity of a scholar. Their clothes were unusual, and they looked like nothing you'd find in Tortall, no matter how many changes King Jonathan and Queen Thayet had brought to the kingdom. "Are you K'miri?" He asked politely.

The dark-haired boy looked slightly taken aback. "No, I'm Italian."

Alanna was nonplussed by his strange answer, and asked, "I assume you have names?"

She didn't realize that this was a wilder assumption than she thought, as these two had never had official names. The girl was known to most as Maximum Ride. However, unlike their younger siblings, she and the boy excelled at making up reasonable fake identities.

"Alex Taylor, and Nick Johnson." Max gave their current identities, which changed approximately every month. For this very reason, they'd probably have to change it again.

Numair bowed as deeply was would be considered proper for the commoners they claimed to be. "What is your business in the Royal Forest?" He asked conversationally.

Max's replied warily, "We've been sent to seek out a King Roger."

Alanna's eyes flashed as she hoped her fear wouldn't reach her countenance. "There has never been a King Roger. Duke Roger tried to overthrow the king over ten years ago, but he was defeated." She decided to leave out 'by me'.

"Well, take us to the other king, then!" The girl snapped. Max herself was concerned by her outburst. She was sarcastic, snide, and made everyone's life a living nightmare, but not bossy. Maybe she was losing her touch.

The King's Champion, always short-tempered, said irritably, "That will just have to wait, children. We've been sent to handle a dangerous flock of immortals; a mission you have already delayed us from!"

Max almost smiled. 'Flock' was an interesting word choice on the woman's part. Alanna pulled a chain around her neck, grasping a flickering purple stone and holding it up. "I know you two are lying to us and hiding something, and it won't be long until we know what about!" She nearly shouted.

With another long look at her companion, Max said, "Okay, fine. My name is Maximum Ride, and this is my…" Brother? Boyfriend? Co-mutant? "friend Fang."

For some reason, Max felt she could trust the short, irritable woman and the tall, polite man. Trust was not a natural instinct for her, so she was unnerved by being relaxed, but she told her secret anyway. "As to what we're hiding." She stepped away from Fang so as to not hit him, rolled her shoulders, and let her wings fan out in all their brown and white glory.

Numair had seen plenty of pretty of strange things in his life. They happened practically every day at the Carthaki university. He was not prepared for this wonder, however. "Mithros, Minoss, and Shakith." He whispered.

"Immortals?" Alanna asked her friend under her breath.

"Human-avian hybrids is the accepted term." Max shot back.

With a glance at Alanna's flaming red hair and strange violet eyes, Max knew she had found the person she was looking for. "Do you happen to know a person called Thom of Trebond?" She asked casually, letting her wings furl closer to her back, allowing more room to maneuver.

All the color drained from the Lioness' face. "You know of Thom?" She asked in shock.

"Met him, actually." Max said, trying to look bored.

"He is…was… my twin. He died a long time ago, during Duke Roger's attempted overthrow." She said, trying to regain her composure.

"Well, he obviously didn't." Max drawled. "We met him only yesterday."

Shock turned to disbelief. "I believe an explanation is in order." Alanna said darkly.

Fang met Max's eyes for a moment, and said, "Okay. The story might take a while."

Numair took a mirror from one of his saddlebags and said to Alanna, "I'll contact the king, and tell him we'll be delayed." Black fire surrounded the mirror. "I can tell this is important."