The following fic is a response to Kahlan the Dream Spirit's "Anti-Kaynie Challenge".

Intersecting Pathways

-Those who believe the key to friendship is a simple thing couldn't be more mistaken-

Martina. The name seemed to echo through the halls of the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, sneering from the walls, yet having a pleasant melodic ring. To Martina alone, that is. She was feared, she knew it, and she took pride in it.

And so, the crowded hallways, swarming with nests of "gifted" children, parted obediently and nervously as she marched pass them, heading to her next class. Triumph welled up within, taking pride in her ever so wonderful reputation at the Institute: the worst bully of them all. And, of course, the leader of all Messengers.

A smirk was plastered across her face as her bulky figure cast her shadow upon them. She shoved a few smaller children into the walls, knocking them off track of the yellow lines that were the pathways of instruction for the normal children, just for the fun of it.

Up ahead, she spotted four students, a quartet of two boys and two girls, none of which she recognized, proceeding to the fact that they must be new. At least, relatively new. A growing smile bloomed, adding to her already delightful (though to others, it looked like an ugly grimace) expression as she relished upon the imaginative scene about to take place. All new students suffered by Martina's hand. Show them whose boss.

That is quite what she wanted to accomplish above all when one of the four glared at her, an extremely short girl with wispy short blond hair and pale blue eyes. Her tiny hands were shoved into the pockets of her red raincoat as she shuffled after the three older children of her supposed group, stopping only to cast Martina a scowl before stepping into the classroom.

...The exact classroom Martina was heading to. She felt a malicious expression creep onto her face. Oh, this is going to be good.

Lifting her head up high, she haughtily proceeded onward, and to the bystanders' much relief, refrained from bullying anyone else, too eager to smack down her next catch: the little scowling girl.

However, the misbehaved little squirt lucked out for that class, for when Martina arrived at the classroom, there was absolutely no time to pick on her; S.Q. Pedalian was ready to start the class.

As the Executive droned on about the day's lesson, Martina zoned out smugly. This was so easy. She'd studied the lesson ahead of time and the whole thing had stuck too her brain like glue. She had it all down to pat. That was what one must do to keep their position as a Messenger.

Thus, when S.Q ambled clumsily around the room handing out the daily quizzes, Martina was glowing with confidence, condescending confidence, in fact, because one of the students without special privileges began to plead mercy, a gesture trying to stop S.Q. from handing out the quizzes. It was useless, of course. Part of the routine at the Institute, after all, was to have daily quizzes on lessons. It was a "duh" thing. Look at the title of this school, you blithering idiots, she thought, irritation pricking her like a thorn. Learning Inistitute for the Very Enlightened.

The close of class was drawing near (at least, the quizzing part of the class), and Martina couldn't resist the snort of satisfaction that escaped her as the majority of the students frantically jotted down responses. Her paper was turned over, blank side up, the signal in which indicated she was done. A few other Messengers had done the same.

And much to her great disgust, two other boys had their quizzes flipped as well, an average looking boy with brown hair, and the other skinny as a stick, bald with spectacles. She narrowed her eyes as they exchanged a glance. They're too smart for a newcomer. They have to be cheating! But she knew neither of them would be proven guilty and be sent to the dreaded Waiting Room with a lack of accurate proof. Martina, and Martina alone, would catch them in the act. My duty, she established, rubbing her hands together with glee.

"Time's up!" S.Q.'s call jerked her roughly out of her fantasy of pummeling a certain two new students. "Pass me your quizzes, everyone- and no dallying, please. A stitch in time saves time, you know."

Martina sighed and lifted her head high. "Nine," she corrected. S.Q. always made verbal blunders, and literal, physical ones as well. What a clutz.

"Nine stitches?" S.Q. inquired, glancing at her. "No, Martina, I'm certain it's just one stitch."

She scoffed scornfully. "No," she responded rudely, "A stitch in time saves nine." She made sure to emphasize the final word, rolling her eyes.

"Exactly," the Executive confirmed, nodding and proceeding with his collecting as Martina fumed, infuriated, at his careless mistake and pretense of not making it at all. Stupid, idiot, dumb S.Q.!

S.Q. began the hourly ritual of grading the tests, while Martina slowly attempted to let her anger die down.

...But it all sprouted back up with a stronger force when S.Q. called those two new, smart boys up. Stomping up, she bared her teeth, blocking their path. "That's right, step back." She nearly chortled with amusement when her gaze detected their obvious fright.

What happened next was a great surprise to all witnesses' eyes. She strode away. Martina Crowe just gave the students one scare, before picking up her feet and exiting through the doorway. S.Q.'s voice assuring the boys, Reynie and George were their names, drifted lazily in a stream of melody to her eardrums.

Yes! Martina cheered inwardly. The bald kid had been caught! Cheating. Cruel laughter bubbled within as his three friends developed looks of utmost horror. "Too bad, so sad," she sneered as George Washington was marched miserably out of the classroom. S.Q. Pedalian cast the young boy a sympathetic glance as they passed at the doorway, S.Q. going in, George moving out.

"So," S.Q. began, clearing his throat. "Throw out your papers, everyone! You'll have to start over."

Martina grinned and crumpled up her quiz and threw it at one of her fellow Messengers, Corliss Danton.

"Hey!" he yelped, beginning to retort, but was quickly silenced by S.Q. "But she-" he attempted to say, protesting indignantly.

"Quiet, please, Corliss."

And that was the signal of the restarting of the quiz. The quiz before her humiliation.

At the end of class, Martina stood up. At least, she tried to. Her feet felt bound and she let out a cry as she stumbled to the floor, dragging the desk down with her. Jeering erupted from the class, like lava flooding down to scorch on Martina. She spotted Kate Wetherall and her companions rushing out of the room, the little girl that Martina first wanted to beat up, Constance Contraire, stumbling sleepily after them.

Martina felt her face redden, anger and embarrassment radiating off her. On the inside, that is. On the outside, she looked like a monster, ready to strike and kill. She heard S.Q. dismiss the class over the raucous roar, and soon sensed his blundering footsteps heading toward her. Beet-red (though, this time, she wasn't sure if it was from anger...), she scrambled up hastily, scratching the desk across the tiled floor while doing so. "Shoot," she muttered, finally noting that her shoelaces were tied up to the chair. Bending down to untangle them, S.Q.'s chuckle rained down to her ears.

"Are you alright?" he asked, and although Martina couldn't see him, one could easily sense the optimism that was nearly always present with him. He offered his hand and Martina took it uncomortably.

"Yeah. See you," she added, before stalking out of the room, trying to regain her mighty pride. And as she made her exit, only one thought seemed to be coherent in her mind, for a peculiar reason. A good friend is always ready to lend a helping hand.

Huge, tepid raindrops tumbled mercilessly from the large, furiously dark clouds. Martina made a dash across the plaza, head bowed down as she darted quickly to see Mr. Curtain, avoiding the puddles (not that it would matter, seeing she was already soaked to the skin). And though strong and wily, even she couldn't deny the unpleasant anxiety that one must feel when called to visit the Ledroptha Curtain, for if you were called for a negative doing, it would be quite tragic. Martina certainly hoped she hadn't done anything Mr. Curtain considered a wrong-doing! There's only a specific limit to how far her bravery could go.

So when she stood outside of Mr. Curtain's room, she was on the bare verge of trembling. Of course, she could easily blame it on the fact that she had just ran through a great downpour, but that would not only make her look like a coward, but also weak...literally weak, and she was fairly sure- scratch that- completely sure she wasn't. Which leads her to the problematic situation: how could she explain the slight shaking that seemed to conquer her at this very moment? Silly as it was, Martina hardly believed she could afford damage to her reputation after the incident yesterday.

A loud crash and an indiscernible mutter sounded a few meters away, jolting her mind away from her "problem" at hand. A few moments later, S.Q. blundered around the corner, munching on a biscuit. Martina felt a stab of annoyance. Why do I continuously run into him?

He acknowledged the Messenger with a nod. "Hey, Martina."

She returned the gesture coolly. "S.Q."


Then, with a small wave to the door leading to Mr. Curtain's office, S.Q. said, "Just some advice. Don't show weakness, okay?"

Thanks for the encouragement, fool, Martina responded sarcastically in her head. Outwardly, she simply scoffed. "Like I would. I've done nothing wrong, nothing to fear."

"I'm sure you haven't."

For a second, their gazes locked, and it was probable that Martina had truly realized how it was like when people wanted to sincerely help for the first time ever.

Ever meaning the time since she'd arrived at the Institute. It was strange, odd, because Martina couldn't remember a single happening before her time at the Institute. Why was that?

"Martina?" Mr. Curtain's voice called her, slightly muffled. "Come in."

S.Q. shot her a friendly smile of encouragement before he turned around, and thumped away. Martina took a breath- not a deep one- just one inhale before stepping in.

She opened her mouth for a greeting, but the founder of the Institute appeared to prefer getting right to the point. "Martina Crowe," Mr. Curtain enunciated her name. "It seems as if George Washington has accused you of cheating."

"What?" She could barely refrain from roaring at the outrageous lie. "How dare the-"

"Martina, you didn't let me finish," said impatiently; slight anger could be detected from behind his reflective dark glasses. The Messenger gulped (but it wasn't visible) and nodded resolutely, muttering a quick apology.

it was interesting, the word "sorry" sounded funny on her tongue- she most obviously wasn't accustomed to the arts of apologizing. But Mr. Curtain seemed to acknowledge it with a pleased manner, which practically showed Martina that it was the right thing to do it at the particular moment.

The narcoleptic man in the green plaid suit opposing her had a gleam of pleasure in his eyes. "Cheating," he began, addressing her in an informative tone, "isn't necessarily always a negative action, Martina." His eyebrows were raised, arching above his glasses."In fact, a more clever form of cheating, using, is very helpful. And although you may deny the accusation our acquaintance George has charged, I do believe that if you committed the deed, you have achieved something. Something that I may award you for."

Silence reigned for a moment as Martina pondered in shock. Awarded for cheating- er, using? Why? Or was this just a trap?

It was inexplicable, the facial expression on Mr. Curtain's face. Not only mysterious as it always was, but also...gleeful, almost. It was rather disconcerting, actually.

"So, do you admit to the deed, Miss Crowe? How similar I sound to a judge," he added bemusedly, letting out a soft chuckle.

And with a strangely calm tone, without a split second of hesitation, she answered, "Of course."

"An Executive!" S.Q. cried.

Jillson curtly nodded in her direction, popping a cream puff into her mouth. "Nice job, squirt."

"Yeah," Jackson agreed dully from her side. "You're one of us now."

"Congratulations," S.Q. said, giving her a hearty pat on the back, jolting the breath out of her.

"Thanks," Martina replied proudly, shifting her body slightly so her new striped pants were visible to all that walked by. She smirked with satisfaction as some Messengers looked at her with a mutual feeling of jealousy, while some of the normal students watched her in awe. Admitting to a lie is certainly worth it. If circumstances were differential, she might have even thanked George. But obviously, she didn't. Pride and unreliability stood in her way, barring her from ever doing that, nor anything along those lines.

A Messenger approached the table, his footsteps slightly hesitant and timid. "Um...Jackson and Jillson? Mr. Curtain wants to discuss something with you." Before the statement was finished, the two Executives had already leaped eagerly out of their chairs and briskly trotted out of the cafeteria.

How exciting, Martina thought bitterly. It was the last thought prior to her soaking Executive pants.

"Oops," S.Q. yelped, nearly jokingly as he immediately picked up her spilled milk carton "Oh, I'll get a towel!" Laughing cheerfully, as always, he shot up (causing his chair to crash to the floor with a clatter) and went off to get a napkin from a Helper.

"S.Q., you idiot!" she shouted angrily.

Sighing, she turned her gaze to the stream of milk. A crack inthe table stopped its flow, forcing it to work it's way around it, and the two mini streams intertwined again after meandering around it.

The image mildly reminded her of the tunnels underground, how each pathway led to another, criss-crossing in a mini Labyrinth. A great network of tunnels... And like a snap of a twig, unbidden, her very first memory prior to the Institute was cannoned into her brain.

...Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly a memory. After sessions in the Whisperer, Mr. Curtain's influence is much too strong on her. It was more so a very short conversation, one she did not recall having with anyone. But she knew, positively, that one of the people conversing was herself.

"Friendship is simple...yet complicated," he advised,smiling good-naturedly.

Martina, young Martina Crowe, raised an eyebrow. "You know that doesn't make any sense at all, right?"

"Yep," the hidden mnemonic man replied, "which is exactly why friendship itself doesn't make sense."

Indeed it didn't. And these two, Martina Crowe and S.Q. Pedalian, proved exactly that.

A/N: I wouldn't necessarily call this romance because friendship if actually a whole lot fitting in terms of characterization.

Thanks for reading,

~Dove's Wing