* Second Earth *

Standing in the shadows of a nearby house, Nevva Winter watched the two former acolytes of Bobby Pendragon with a sour taste in her mouth. It had been the closest encounter yet in the time since the territories had been restored and so called wrongs righted by the Last Traveler.

The poor fool had sought to change things from occurring without even realizing the mostly linear path of time. By merely choosing to go back he had set into motion a completely new revision of events and the reactions of each individual whom mattered to those events.

He had unknowingly revived his nemesis and rival in the process, the two with the most knowledge over how to manipulate Halla's workings. 'Oh, the damage you had done to us before your treachery to Press's teachings revealed the truth!' she thought, and not for the first time since being re-stationed here.

After four territories and a terrible struggle in the re-sequenced events, it was to all be averted by returning shortly prior to the point of original divergence on Eelong and settling in to wait for him to arrive the second time and set things into motion, then skipping forward once again.

Thus: Her teacher and partner departed to and remained in the past, while throwing her forward after their revival to the end of their original loss and ultimately leapfrogging right over the changes rolling forward. Nevva was, for all intents and purposes, separated by an insurmountable wall once she arrived here. No doubt her past self from the newly altered chain of events would be recruited, allowing for her to co-exist before and after the divergence for a time, but soon enough the changes would sweep through and erase her from this rendition of the present.

Her ring was already glowing weakly all the time, and her earlier memories were beginning to grow foggy and distorted. 'And this is all your fault, you miserable Traveler!' she thought in anger, gripping her hands tightly together to keep from doing something stupid-- such as killing his former acolytes.

Mark's mind remained occupied on that strange jumble of notes over the next week. He was able to keep it under control around his parents and for the most part at school, but once or twice he caught himself humming louder than preferred and he would grow flustered and realize it was always in the presence of the girl he had almost walked into.

At last he couldn't take it any longer. He tracked her down after school and intercepted before either arrived at her house. "You!" she stated in a tone that, quite frankly, worried him. "Listen up! I don't want to see you sneaking around school and embarrassing me with that stupid, stupid song of yours any more! I've had it with my friends and their not-so-subtle comments about our relationship!" she snarled.

Mark took a step back at the ferocity of her words. Without even letting him get a chance to turn tail and flee as he had before, she crossed the distance between them quickly, wrapped one fist into his shirt tightly and added "Got it!?" "I-I got it! I-I got i-it!" he stammered rapidly. "Good!" releasing him and marching past, she continued toward home and, unknown to Mark, tried to feel less like a jerk for her reaction toward him.

He turned enough to watch her go and grimaced nervously, fishing into his backpack for a few carrot sticks before heading for his own house. He hesitated a few blocks down until he felt his nerves calm down enough to greet his parents without stammering.

Nevva's raven form descended to a low hanging branch across the street from where the encounter had taken place. 'Trouble brewing? All the better!' her mind leaped ahead to any way to keep them even further apart. A dark smile played across the ravens maw as she took flight again with a set of ideas rolling through her mind.

Foremost among them? Assuming Courtney's form and really showing the boy just what a one-sided rage was. And then, of course, returning the gesture in kind to Courtney as Mark. If that did not destroy their relationship before it could develop, she didn't know what could.

The two avoided one another. Mark forced himself not to think of the notes that had given him so much trouble when at school. When the weekend came again, again on a Friday as before, Mark found himself once more confronted by an angry female he had believed was likewise trying to stay as far away from him as possible.

She caught him emerging from the all but abandoned bathroom-turned-sanctuary. "What--" he began, but she pushed him back through the door and into the bathroom again. He stumbled on the door frame and crashed to the dark tiled floor, dropping his glasses to the ground in the process. In three quick steps through the door her foot descended on and ground them into a rather fine powder with a low crunch.

"Hey!" he exclaimed in surprise and panic. "I thought you got the message last week, Dimond, but apparently that thick skull of yours didn't process things clearly enough." she spoke in a sharp pitch he had never heard before. She leaned down, grabbed him by the hair, and yanked him up to his feet at an awkward angle. He yelped in pain and scrambled at her wrists, but she released and pushed him backwards again.

This time he hit a stall and was flung back at her. She dropped down and swept his legs out from under him. His hands couldn't get under him soon enough and another crunch filled the stale air as his nose was broken. Mark howled and rolled over onto his side, clutching at the cartilage painfully and trying to staunch the rush of blood. "Have you got it yet?" she demanded. "Stay the hell away from me!" he screeched back sharply, rolling away from her as best he could and squinting through the tears with both hands still pressed to his shattered nose.

She tsked at him. "I warned you before. Now I'm enforcing the warning. If you so much as glance in my direction again, I'll castrate you, got it?!" she snarled. "Screw you!" he spat out, anger briefly giving him courage that would fade to fear again soon enough. She shook her head disgustedly and turned heel. "And if you breath one word of this to anyone, and I mean anyone, I'll find you and make sure this session looks like a peck on the cheek by comparison! Got it!" she warned at the door, pausing long enough to say her parting shot, and then departing.

Mark felt his anger deflate almost instantly. Pain over-rode it, along with panic over what he was going to say about his wounds and loss of glasses to his parents, and then how he was going to spend the next few days doing his absolute best to memorize and avoid Courtney Chetwynde in the future.

He didn't yet realize that he knew her last name without having heard it before, or that her class schedule would come to mind fairly quickly and with more detail than by any rights it should have. But that would come in due time.

/end Second Earth