When General Lambert wrote his The Outsider, he wasn't privy to some of the information that I now am. As a slave, my mother's memory had been tampered with many times, so that she didn't remember her true story until well after her marriage to my father. Once we found out the entirety of her story, it became even more incredible. I am certain you will agree with my assessment.

Another story not present in Lambert's account were the events surrounding the death of my mother and father, simply because they hadn't happened at the time The Outsider was written. I have accurate accounts of these events myself, and I hope that someday, the stories I tell here may someday be part of The Outsider. I consider them to be the lost chapters.

-Judith Lane

"Mommy," Amanda heard her oldest daughter ask, "how long before Daddy and Seth are back?"

She stooped to the level of the little Fox, "Michaela, I've already told you that they'll be back tomorrow."

"But I want to play with Seth! Beth, Amber and Thomas are too young to be fun."

"Michaela, I can't bring them back any faster, honey. You'll just have to make do with the rest of your brothers and sisters for now. Or go play with some other kids in the village."

The little Fox's ears laid down and her whole orange form sagged as she moped out of the small hut. Amanda got back to fixing supper; salted meats her husband had killed and preserved before he left so she'd have something to cook. She sighed to herself; secretly, she was just as anxious as Michaela for her husband and son's return. Just like she'd told Michaela, however, it would be soon before they got back. Not soon enough. She worried about the two of them when they were away; the city was a dangerous place for two country carpenters and farmers. Sure, her husband was one of the best swordsmen she knew and he was starting to teach Seth, but what did that mean if they were outnumbered and surrounded?

He always tells me that I worry too much, she thought. She was most certainly worrying. As to whether or not it was justified worry, well, only the gods knew that. She glanced out the hut's small window; spotting Michaela playing quietly with some of the village's other children, along with her younger siblings. Amanda smiled. Michaela had turned three the day before. Like most Keidran, Amanda was the only member of the family—Michaela included—who kept track of the children's birthdays. Not that it really mattered. Keidran had nothing that began exactly at a certain age; only things that began over time around a certain time. Amanda shrugged and kept on cooking the salted venison. Once she'd boiled most the salt off, she removed it from the pot. It was still red, which was just the way she and her family liked it. Keidran liked cooked meat at times. There were other times when they liked it raw. They usually liked it somewhere in the middle. Amanda took the last of the strips from the pot and dropped rolls of ground beef from the city into it. They would soak up the salt and taste from the venison. It was difficult for Amanda to make dishes interesting enough for all the children to like then when all she had was meat, salt and water. She shrugged, that's life when you're poor and a carnivore.

She waited for the meatballs to brown on the outside. They would still be raw and flavorful on the inside, though. She used one of the spoons with holes in it that Seth had made for her to pull the meatballs out of the boiling water and placed them into a large bowl with the venison strips. She leaned out the door and called to the children, "C'mon, kids, time to eat!"

As usual, they all stormed in at once and sat on the hut's mud floor. Amanda gave each of them several strips of venison and a couple meatballs, which they all choked down nearly immediately. Amanda smiled as she ate her own share. The children conversed quietly amongst each other. They talked about the other kids in the village a bit. Eventually, the conversation came around to Seth and Jeff. Thomas wondered when they would be back.

"Tomorrow," Michaela provided. Beth wanted them back sooner.

"They'll get here the same time, don't matter what you want," Michaela said. For barely three, Michaela was a smart little thing. Those words were better than anything Amanda could have told Beth.

"But why they got'ta be gone so long?" Thomas wined.

Michaela didn't have an answer for that one. She looked to Amanda. Amanda answered for her, "Honey, they're selling things so we can get things, honey." She smiled warmly.

"Then why do they have to go for so long, momma?" Amber asked.

Amanda praised her by rubbing her head. Amber was just barely learning to speak, so when she did, Amanda was sure to reinforce the habit. "Because they make more money when they stay gone longer. And don't no one else ask questions," Amanda said to them all, "you're mostly too young to get it, anyhow. Run along and play, now," she said, making shooing motions. The children enthusiastically got up and ran out of the hut.

No matter how much Michaela may have protested otherwise, they all loved to play with the other village kids. It beat the heck out of housework, Amanda thought as she got up to wash out the dishes. The pot she'd boiled the meat in still had salt and fat in its water. She poured the water from it into a shallow dish and sat it out in the sun so the water would dry up and the salt and fat would keep. She used the remainder of the fresh water in the wooden pail to wash out the used pot and bowl. The good thing about eating with one's hands was that there were few dishes to wash. Nonetheless, she would have to go down to the stream and get more water.

She shrugged; what could she do about it? That established, she grabbed the wooden pail and walked out the back door to go down to the stream. She walked down the winding trail contemplatively. It was quiet save the birds chirping away and the occasional cricket and cicada making their respective shrill noises. If one was close enough, it hurt her sensitive ears. That was yet another thing about which she could do nothing. So, nonetheless, she dipped the pail in the stream and pulled up the cold, clear water. She sat the bucket on the bank of the crisp, clear, babbling water and scooped some up with her furry hands, taking a good drink. It was wonderfully cool and refreshing. She had yet to lose her winter coat completely and it was mid-spring, which meant that she got rather hot. What I wouldn't do for a proper brush these kinds of days,she thought, grabbed the bucket and headed back to the village. She still had a wooden one her husband had made her, but it hurt her skin and pulled her hair. She still used it frequently, for no other reason than they had given it to her.

She walked through the back door of the hut and sat the pail beside the fire. She grabbed a straw broom and swept the dirt floor of the hut out, cleaning out any food the kids had left behind. She didn't want ants in the hut, not that day.

Piercing the silence of the dull day, she heard a loud scream. Fox Keidran came running out of the woods, yelling something else in panic-filled tones of Keidran. Naturally, all the members of the village who were present—mostly females as the men were off hunting or at their various trades—came out of their huts to see what the commotion was about. They gathered in the streets staring in the direction of the screams.

Finally, a group of Fox came running out of the woods onto the village's outskirts. Their words were excited and not at all comprehensible. Eventually, the running Keidran's words became clear enough to understand, "Wolves! Slave traders! They'r…" the Fox's words were cut but a bright blue bolt to her back. A black magic dragon's head followed, grabbing those of the returning, panicked party and some who were nearby in the village. They vanished as the translucent head slithered back into the woods.. Amber, quite without thinking, ran out into the village common, scooping Amber and Beth into her arms, yelling at Thomas and Michaela to run with her. Michaela grabbed Thomas and jerked him with her. He was hesitant, wanting to stay and see what the commotion was about. Neither Amanda nor Michaela, who served as part-time mother to her younger siblings, would let that happen. Within seconds, they were running through the woods.

They were forced to stop for breath eventually. When they did, Amanda saw the black manna tentacles writhing through the forest. She sighed and looked to her children, wrapping them in a hug before the evil caught up with them. "I love you, never forget that. Stay strong, your lives will get better. I promise." That was all she could remember before the black swept over her.

Templar Council Member Josh Tigreson surveyed his most recent catch from the Wolves he had hired. From the looks of it, they'd taken an entire village during midday in midweek. That wasn't an opportune time for capturing male slaves, not at all. Then again, the current market wasn't very demanding for male slaves. Most farmers were too poor to buy slaves. Those that weren't already had enough slaves to do for some time. Taverns and wealthy merchants, now, they wanted pretty females for their own purposes, be it cleaning or something far more sinister. Small boys and girls were a favorite of some more… questionable groups of the market. Speculators liked little ones, too, because they were cheaper than full-grown slaves and there was a good chance that, with the right preparation, these would grow up to be the big strong slaves or the pretty barmaids. If not, they still made good house servants.

Those sectors of the market in mind, this was a good group the Wolves had brought back, though he did wish that there would have been just a few more burly males. I'll live,he thought with a shrug. He turned to the leader of the Wolves, "This is good. Good hunt. Though, next time, I'd like to see one or two more males."

The leader of the wolves, a certain Naori, shrugged as he accepted his payment. "You said you wanted more females."

Josh nodded, "That's still full payment for a reason."

Naori shrugged and counted the Templar minted gold and silver coins. The slave trade was a profitable business. Anyone who thought that Josh didn't profit personally was dead wrong. "So it is," Naori said and pocketed the coins. He motioned for his men to move away from the slaves and called to them in Keidran. They herded the chained Foxes towards the Templar who waited by the slave wagons. Josh's men then loaded them into said wagons as Naori and Josh made small talk.

"How is the market looking, speaking of?" the Wolf asked

"Well. Our new Grand Templar has a particular loathing for your kind, so he wants more slaves. I received a promotion because of my involvement in the trade, as a matter of fact."

"That's very good news," the Wolf said toothily.

The Templar nodded. "Yes, though I fear it may create a problem in the long run."

The Wolf raised an attentive ear, awaiting a further explanation.

"Supply and demand—if the market is flooded with all the slaves it needs, they will be less needed. Lower price for the both of us."

The Wolf nodded. "Yes, yes, I see what you mean. What about sugar plantations in the East? They go through slaves in months."

"They're closer to the Tigers and Cats. Most the slaves will come from there."

"The Tigers are far more able to counter than the Fox. More like we Wolf."

Josh had to nod at that, "Indeed. There's a reason Tiger slaves are considered exotic. Wolves and Tigers don't take our incursions lightly. So we hire them to take slaves from the other clans."

"Bloody awful system, ain't it?"

Josh grimaced. "Indeed it is. I don't like it, really, but that's the way it is. The way it's gonna be."

The Wolf nodded, "At least it will be for our lifetimes. Maybe our children will move beyond it."

"We can only pray."

Naori nodded somberly, "I always thought you were a good man, no matter your business, Josh."

"A matter of personal opinion, honestly," he said with a shrug. His wife and son were Tiger Keidran he'd met in his travels as a Templar. When Human/Keidran relations had started getting strained, he'd hired Wolves to level the village he lived in and take the children away to foster homes in their native territories with their memories wiped and their true species masked by complex spells. He'd given the adults no mercy. Nor had he given the Wolves any. He hadn't paid them. He'd murdered them. Now he was the only man on Mekkan who knew and that was just the way he liked it. But he sure wasn't a good man, not by any measure.

The Wolf clicked two claws in front of Josh's face. "You there?"

Josh snapped back to reality, "Yeah, sorry, what'd you say?"

"I said that they've finished loading the slaves. See you in two weeks.

"Yeah. Remember, a few more burly males this time."

"Of course, sir."

Just another day in the world we live, he thought with a shrug as he said his parting words, mounted his nearby horse, and rode away.

Four days later, towards dusk, when it was cooler, Josh presided over the local slave auction. A local slave trader bought most of the older slaves and a good many younger ones to resell. Two smaller traders and resellers bought the rest, along with some of the younger ones to resell. A couple of taverns bought some of the prettier teenaged females. As usual, some questionable taverns purchased a few of the youngest, speculative traders snapping the rest up. In all likelihood, they'd bounce around from master to master and trader to trader for years. For a passing second, Josh felt sorry for the animals, especially the ones sent to the questionable taverns. He shrugged. They were only animals, after all. At least, telling himself that helped. Amy was no animal. She never had been.

Michaela didn't quite understand what was going on. It was almost night when she'd been put up on a big stage with a big man behind her talking in nonsensically fast Human. People in the crowd had yelled things at points in the big man's rambling. Towards the end, it was just two men who were yelling, each at a different time. Finally, one of them didn't yell. The big man behind her kept on rambling, repeating one thing—human numbers, she realized—'3,200! 3,200!' then something like 'Goin wonce, guin twice... sold!' The big rambling man grabbed her by the fur on the back of her neck, dragged her off the stage and tossed her to a man in bright blue robes. The man in the robes drug her across the ground to a man in plain grey robes—the same man who'd been the last to yell. He picked her up off the ground, wiping the dirt off her and putting a leather necklace around her neck.

The instant the necklace clasped, she felt calmer. Less at edge. She took a deep breath in and closed her eyes. Opened them. Closed them. Why did she feel different? Why wasn't she scared? Because her master wouldn't do anything to hurt her, would he? Wait, she thought, Master? It's a control spell! She'd heard about them in the scary stories mommy and daddy told her at night. She'd never imagined having one on her. Her master motioned for her to follow him. Why not? She thought. Master knew best, didn't he? Of course he did. He was her master. From the very depths of her soul, she cursed the thoughts.
He led her to a caged cart, where many other Keidran, Fox, Wolf and Dog of all different ages waited. She climbed in it without any of them, master or slave, saying a word. She curled up in the corner, a kindly looking old Fox woman crowding around her, trying her best to take care of her with what she had to work with, which was to say, nothing. Again, neither of them said a word. The faces around her were desolate and forboding. Dead. Empty. Hollow. Much like Michaela presently felt. Her whole life now seemed gone. She was forced to a life of solitude and servitude, with no chance of escape. None. The spell would always suppress her, bind her to doing things she didn't want to.

The floor of the wagon was stiff and cold. The bars of its sides dug into her back. She couldn't seem to find a comfortable place for her tail. For that matter, she couldn't seem to find much of a comfortable place for any of her. I really hope this isn't any kind of indicator for the rest of my life. In the back of her mind, in the very depths of her soul, she knew it would be. She knew that this was the life she was destined to live. The life of a person not her own, the life of nothing but a piece of property. They weren't pleasant thoughts, but they were the only thoughts she found herself capable of thinking. She wanted to cry. She didn't know if mommy or daddy, or Thomas or Amber or anyone she'd ever known was safe. Were they okay? Maybe they would have as good a master as she did. Master was a great master.

Will the spell not leave me alone when I'm sad? She yelled at herself. She wanted to scream and cry and be angry all at the same time. But she said nothing. She did nothing. She did nothing.She had to do something! She couldn't allow herself to be thrown into slavery without so much as a fight! Suddenly she had a headache. No, everything would be fine, she heard a voice somewhere between her soul and her mind say. You can't escape, it told her. It will be alright. Master is a good master. He won't hurt you. Everything he does is for the best. She sighed, thinking, at least I'll know the difference between me and the control spell now.

Michaela didn't remember or know when she'd fallen asleep, but she knew that she was now very sore and that it was morning. The old Fox mother had curled up around her to keep her warm. She reminded Michaela of her mother. Michaela finally allowed herself to cry. The spell kept telling her that everything would be okay, that master was a great master. She ignored it. That made her head hurt. But she didn't care. She would cry anyway.

The irony of Michaela's story is that she did find joy in her life as a slave, more than she would ever know until she ran into a rather lost Air Force General. And it wasn't because Master was a great master; quite the opposite. Michaela soon developed a good rule for gauging masters; if they let you call them by their name, even if it was only their last name, they would be a good master. If they only let you call them "Master," they would be a terrible master. Michaela learned this as she bounced around from master to master, trader to trader, family to family, for nearly a year. In this time, she discovered that her grim prediction had been right. Her first night as a slave had indeed been a pretty good indication of most of her life. But something changed one day when a family bought her from a trader as a babysitter for their children.

- Judith Lane

Michaela sighed. She was being sold yet again. She dutifully stood up on the auction block, turned around as the auctioneer told her to do, demonstrated that she was able to speak both Keidran and Human fluently, that she was free of scars or any kind of physical damage; the usual routine. Also par for the course was the fact that no one bided on her. She shrugged it off, she knew she wasn't the prettiest girl up there (what most the taverns were after, though she didn't want to be adopted by a tavern), and she wasn't exactly strong, either. She didn't have much use as a slave, especially not the way that prices had started inflating. No one even met the opening bid and the trader refused to take a lower one; he'd lose money.

Unlike usual, she was taken to a private selling, where the prices were guaranteed to remain the same instead of guaranteed to rise out of proportion as people got more and more into the sensation of bidding. Now she stood on a humble little pedestal instead of the large auction stands. Traders and families wandered through the hall, where many slaves that hadn't sold were. She wasn't surprised when most of them didn't so much as stop in front of her.

One family came through, with the mother and father holding a small baby each and a young boy and even younger girl walking quietly behind them. The father paused briefly in front of Michaela and started to walk on. But the boy stopped him, grabbing at his robes, "no, daddy, I like this one. We should get her."

Master walked over from conferring with another party. "Found the one ye wants?"

"Well, Will sure seems to like her. How old is she? We're looking for a babysitter and she happens to be in our price range. She seems to be the only one as such."

"She's four, almost five," Master said. "Make a fine babysitter, too."

Michaela was actually barely four, but she knew better than to contradict Master—not that the control spell would have allowed her to, anyhow.

"I don't know, honey," the mother said, "She's awful young to be a babysitter."

"Missus, she's plenty old enough. The dogs age faster than we do, mind you."

Michaela winced at that view of her. It was common enough among Humans, she'd found.

"I'm not sure. Four is about what, eight?"

"More like ten, but it's hard to tell 'bout de animals, missus."

Michaela knew Master was lying again. Again, she could do nothing about it and she didn't really care to, either. She really hoped this family would buy her. Maybe they'd be better than Master.

"Well, momma," the oldest boy said, "she's all we've seen we can buy. Let's take a chance."

"Ye should listen to yer kiddy here, sire. She'd be good fer ye."

"Tell you what, knock 200 gold off and we'll bite."

"I gots that much in 'er. 50 off."


"Aw, you can do better than that, she's a fine 'un."

Amazing how Master's opinion of her changed when he was trying to sell.

"Cut your losses, the market's inflating. 100 off or we walk."

Master stuck his pudgy hand out, "Deal."

There was an exchange of a great deal of gold coins (Nice to know I'm worth something, anyhow, she thought) and Master looked at her, "Well, Michaela, yer there's now. Go on." He made shooing motions as she stepped off the pedestal and silently stood among the crowd of a family. Master walked away, much to Michaela's relief.

She looked to her new owners (not family, as she very much wanted to think) with a look of hope and depression. The man smiled back at her, "I'm John Cooper, this is my wife Korey and my children," he motioned to the oldest (though still not too old) boy, "Will," the older girl, "Anne," the baby he was holding, "Jen," the baby his wife was holding, " and finally, Ben. You can see why we needed a baby sitter."

Michaela nodded.

The woman, Korey, Michaela reminded herself, kneeled down to her level and looked her in the eyes. Michaela looked away. The woman gently took hold of her muzzle and ever so gently made Michaela look at her, "Oh, there's no telling what you've been through, you poor girl! You can talk to us, look us in the eyes. We won't hurt you."

"But I don't like looking people in the eyes. It's not natural to me," she squeaked. Maybe they'd let her get by with that.

"Oh! I'm sorry, honey," Korey said and took her hand off Michaela's muzzle, smiling again and standing up.

Perhaps these masters would be more kind to her after all.

"C'mon, y'all," the man said, waving the conglomerate of her new family to follow him, talking his wife's free hand in his free hand. Michaela wondered why he did that. It seemed terribly inconvenient.

Once they were out of the building, John had them all form closely together. He sighed, "This should be complicated."

What will be complicated?Michaela asked herself.

Suddenly, she saw a very pure blue surround her, envelop her. Suddenly, she wasn't just outside of a slave warehouse, but in front of a large but homely cottage in the country. Her gaze darted around. What had just happened? Where was she?

She felt a calm, reassuring hand on her shoulder. "It's alright. It was just a teleportation spell," Korey's calming voice told her.

Michaela let out a sigh of relief as they started walking. The older boy walked up beside her, "What's your name? I don't think we ever asked. How rude of us."

"It's alright, I'm used to it. I'm Michaela by birth, but I have to tell you that I can call you anything you want."

"Michaela. I like that name," John said. "We wouldn't change your name, anyway."

She nodded and said, barely audible to her sensitive ears, "Thank you."

They all stopped at the door and John waved a hand in front of it, "Aperio." For a brief second, Michaela saw blue lines appear on the door. They disappeared even faster and the door opened.

"Welcome to your new home, Michaela," Korey said as they walked in. Inside, the home looked even bigger than it did on the outside. Looks like I got lucky,after all,she thought, maybe they'll keep me.

Korey showed Michaela around her new home directly, and introduced her to her chores, though she wouldn't have to do them until the next day. She hadn't been given much to do, either. Taking care of the kids when both Korey and John were gone and cleaning a bit when they were home (the home looked spotless, which made Michaela figure the kids were used to keeping it tidy, anyhow) was about the extent of her chores. She was told that she would probably do the dishes once she was old enough to reach the sink. She got a small laugh out of that one. That finished, she was introduced to her bed, a small straw cot in the room with the older two siblings. She sat on the cot and Korey left. Will came in a few seconds later, while Michaela was looking around the room.

"Hi," he said.

Michaela tried to smile, but failed at it. "Hello."

The two of them stared at each other awkwardly. Will broke out laughing, "Um, yeah, so, how old are you?"

"Four. You?"

"Twelve." He paused. "I'm older than you. A lot older than you. How are you my babysitter?"

"Keidran age faster than humans."

"I know. Even still, you're younger than me."

"I won't be in about three months."

Will conceited on that, "Point made."

"Until then, though," she said with a toothy grin—not that she was capable of any other kind of grin, anyway, "I suppose you'll just have to make the best of it."

He raised an eyebrow, "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly what I said," she said and stuck out her canine tongue."

"What are you going to do, lick me?" he asked mockingly.

"Don't tempt me."

Will paused for a second in thought, "We're going to end up being typical brothers and sisters, aren't we?"

Michaela laughed, "Yeah, probably." She had no idea how wrong she'd become.

Korey entered the room just as Michaela had finished that comment, "Ah, there you two are. Getting acquainted, are we? Good. Now, it's almost supper time, so I have some things to show you, Michaela."

Korey lead Michaela downstairs, where she helped Korey set the table, which was quite the learning experience for the little Keidran. Korey told her that it would become one of her duties once she'd learned how to do so at all three meals. Humans eat three meals a day? Michaela thought. That was interesting. She'd always only had two meals a day, if that. But the table was set, and she was put at the end of the table, the farthest away from the head of the table, beside the youngest daughter who could feed herself (the little girl's name escaped her mind). Michaela didn't know much about Human dining customs, but she did know that that was the position of least respect along the square table. As nice as the Coopers were, they were still humans (at least they let me eat with them, that's a very rare thing, she thought). And she was still just a Keidran, whether she liked it or not. The children kept silent during the conversation, at least until Korey brought up something about which they were allowed to speak, "Will, when is that Templar Youth hike and campout you're going on?"

"Umm, the 25th, I think," he responded, sounding very uncertain indeed.

"Dear, don't worry about it," John said, "we already hired a babysitter, remember?"

"Exactly," Korey said and pointed at Michaela. "We need to cancel her services."

"We can't, 'least not without still paying for it," John said. "Less than a week's notice; she has to come out here on horseback, mind you."

Korey sighed, "Well, problem is that I have a meeting with the committee that day and you have a mission..."

"I'm aware," John said.

Will looked at the two grown-ups with what Michaela thought was hopefulness.

"Do you want to say something, Will?" Korey asked, seeing the look.

"Well, can she come with me? I just think that would be awesome."

John and Korey exchanged mixed glances. "Well, I don't see why on Mekkan not," Korey said, "It would be a wonderful chance for the two of you to bond. That's necessary for a good babysitter."

Will grinned from ear to ear. John didn't seem nearly so happy, but he didn't say anything or make any state tents to contradict Korey. Michaela finished picking all the meat from around the vegetables and wiped her hands and muzzle on the white cloth she'd seen the rest using for the same purposes. She then knitted her fingers and waited on the others to finish so she could be dismissed and, no doubt, help Korey wash the dishes up. But she, of course, could get no peace. Korey looked at her, "Michaela, dear, aren't you going to eat your vegetables?"

Fortunately, John saved her before she could say anything foolish, "Korey, honey, Keidran can't eat plants. She probably doesn't even know what they are."

Michaela, from her experience in other human homes, knew what they were and also knew that they would make her very sick if she ate them. So she kept quiet, knitted her furred fingers and waited for the humans to finish. With Korey and John having to feed the youngest before they fed themselves, it took quite some time for them to finish, time well after the other children had eaten and left. But Michaela still sat patiently. It seemed to take them a while to realize this, but when they did, Korey remarked, "Wow, aren't you simply wonderful, darling? So patient and waiting on me to tell you what to do! Tell you what, since you're so good, run along and play with the kids, keep an eye on them, now, you hear? I'll show you how to wash dishes tomorrow morning after breakfast."

Michaela nodded, "Thank you, ma'am," silently got up, taking her plate to the kitchen, and went to find the kids.

"Mom, we don't have a sleeping bag for Michaela," Will told Korey.

"Just get her two blankets, she's a Keidran, she's tough, right?" Korey asked, rubbing Michaela with something resembling affection as she finished the sentence.

Michaela simply nodded. She doubted her shyness around humans would go away anytime soon.

"Okay, mom," he reluctantly sighed, and threw two blankets into the small pack she would be carrying. She had decided not to tell Will how badly it would chaff her fur; she didn't want him carrying her stuff along with his (his pack looked heavy enough as it was). She considered offering to take part of the tent for him, but refrained. If he asked, she would take it. If not, his loss, her gain.

It seemed like no time at all before she was plodding along a trail through a forest somewhere in the Northeast of the Human Empire. Michaela thought it ironic that they'd teleported out to the location, and then proceeded to hike for miles. In reality, why wouldn't they have just teleported all the way? She expressed this to Will as they walked seemingly endless distances.

He shrugged. "Beats me. All I know is that I need to hike five miles to get my First Class. That's all I care about."

"Do you mind if I speak freely?" she asked timidly.

"Not at all. Tell that control spell that you can always speak freely to me," he said with a warm and friendly smile.

She nodded, "Thank you. I'll remember that. I'll make sure the control spell does, too." Sometimes the spell seemed like another person living in her body, with a will totally separate her own. "And, then, why am I here? I'm just a Keidran slave. I can tell that your masters, if that's what you call them, are not too happy about my presence."

"Close enough to what we call them, yes, and well, quite frankly, I wanted you to come, I figured you'd like it."

Michaela smiled, suppressing a tear that wanted to form in her eye, "Thank you. I've… I've never had anyone do anything so nice for me before."

Will smiled, "It's the least I could do. I figured it'd do you some good to see the outside world before you got stuck in that house."

Michaela grimaced, "I've seen the outside world. I wasn't born a slave, you know. I was taken from my home about a year ago to be a slave."

Will looked to his steadily moving feet and sighed. "I'm sorry. I don't get it. The adults tell me that you're all just Keidran, that you're animals and it actually helps you to put you into slavery. It civilizes you, makes you better. I don't see that you need any civilization. You seem perfectly normal to me."

"It's the spell," Michaela said. "It suppresses my instincts."

Neither Michaela nor Will knew that it was in fact the Templar towers—the ones erected under Trace Legacy's rule—that were suppressing her instincts, not the control spell. Both worked together to make Keidran under their influence far more docile.

"I have trouble believing that completely," Will said. "It can't change you completely."

"Perhaps not," Michaela said. "I don't know. I barely remember my time in Keidran territory. Any change could be because I'm older. Heck if I know," she muttered and kicked at a loose stone bemusedly.

Will appeared to attempt a shrug, but his pack rather suppressed it. That reminded Michaela just how much hair her own smaller pack was ripping from her shoulders. Not a pleasant thought. Not a pleasant feeling, either. There were still about two and a half miles left. That meant…

"Alright, youth!" One of the masters yelled, "Time for lunch, take off your packs and take a rest, you hear?"

He needed not tell any of them twice. Michaela and Will found a nice, soft spot of ground and dropped their packs. That was a relief for the tired Keidran. She sighed.

Will busily dug their lunch out of his pack as Michaela plunked down on the moss-covered forest ground. He handed her a brown paper bag from which the aroma of highly salted pork emanated. She opened it slowly, letting the aroma sink in before she ate.

Will pulled his own bag out right as Michaela sunk her teeth into the chunk of meat. He turned around and sat down, facing her. He paused, "Your shoulders are raw. The pack pulled your hair out, didn't it? Why didn't you tell me?"

Michaela swallowed the pork she'd wolfed (foxed?) down. "I didn't want you to carry anything else. That pack looks heavy enough."

He stared at her blankly, "Michaela, I can handle it. Your shoulders can't. I'll take your pack for the rest of the way."

"You'll do no such thing," she said, trying to sound just as stubborn as she could.

"I will take that pack from you by force," he said, sounding far more stubborn that she could ever dream of being.

She reluctantly handed him the pack before he did try taking it by force. That done, she continued chowing down on the delicious salty, meaty, red, raw pork. Will ate a disgusting-looking compilation of bread, cheese and pork cooked until it was almost black (she'd heard it called something like bakon sandwitch). She shivered at the thought of good pork so wasted by cooking it that much. The thought of bakon almost made her real raw pork taste bad. Almost, but not quite. She finished the pork and regretfully stood up on her raw and sore paws. She walked to the stream and drank from it, washing her hands at the same time. She sat back down with Will, who was still eating. He handed her something else from his pack. It was seasoned beef, she could tell by the smell, but it was rigid and cooked. She stared at it blankly.

"Beef jerky," he provided.

Michaela nodded and took a small bite. She coughed violently. By the gods, the stuff was hot! She ran to the stream and took handfuls of water up. She also dipped the vile stuff in the stream and rubbed the spices off of it. She returned to where Will was sitting and sat again. "Keidran are rather sensitive to spices," she said. "We never use any except salt."

"Oh," he said shortly, looking at her quite blankly. He grimaced, "Sorry. I had no idea."

"It's alright," she said and took another bite of it, undaunted.

He looked at her shocked. "I thought..?"

She grinned, "I can be tough when I'm expecting it."

He looked at her quite impressed for a few seconds. "You washed it in the stream, didn't you?"

She laughed, "Yep."

"You had me," he said, pointing at her accusingly.

She grinned and took another bite. It wasn't the best meat, tough, now kind of watery, but she was hungry and it was meat. There was a somewhat awkward silence. Michaela looked around. "Have I scared off all your friends?"

Will chuckled sarcastically, "Huh. What friends?"

Michaela raised an eyebrow and an attentive ear, waiting for him to go on.

"I don't have many friends in my troop. I don't have many friends… Well, anywhere."

"Why not?"

He shrugged and looked away, avoiding her concerned look. He finally looked back at her, meeting her eyes for a second and then hanging his head. "I… Don't know. It's always been that way. It's funny. I'm well-rounded enough that I can talk to just about anybody about one thing or the other… And yet I still find myself feeling like an outsider. People seem more happy to use me than to talk to me."

Michaela gently raised a clawed hand and pulled his chin up, making him face her, "I'm sorry I brought it up… If I would have known…"

He gently swatted her hand away and met her eyes, held them, "Don't apologize. You didn't know, and, honestly, it's a relief to talk about it."

Michaela nodded and made a point to avoid his eyes. That wasn't natural to her. She knew that eye contact was a gesture of respect for humans. It was an aggressive gesture for Keidran. "What did you mean, that people use you?"

He grinned, "I'm very good at magic. Very good. I got that from my father, I suppose. So when people have a problem at school with a spell or their homework, they always come to me."

"Well, that just means you're good and they trust you," Michaela said, slightly confused. That was good, wasn't it?

He nodded grimly, "Problem is, that's all these people ever talk to me about, that's the only time I see them, when they have a problem they need help with. I have only one or two friends that aren't that way."

Michaela nodded, "I'm sorry… I know that has to feel terrible, but at least remember that you have those qualities. You're better than they are and that's why they need to come to you."

He shrugged, "Some consolation, I guess. Not that it matters; I got it better than a lot of people."

Michaela nodded and let herself smile just a bit, "That's a good attitude to have."

He shrugged and ate the last of his beef jerky, "Keeps me going, at any rate." Not giving her time to reply, Will stood up and started putting on his backpack, seconds before the Master called for the boys to get a move on. "Can you tell I done this a few times?" He asked her with a crooked smile.

She nodded, "Yeah, it's pretty obvious."

He offered her two hands to help her stand up. She took them and let him pick her up off the cold ground. Courtesy, she thought, rare for a human. Poor, poor, naïve boy.She suspected that was the reason he was so nice to her. He didn't yet understand how inferior she was to him. Perhaps it was because he had been treated so badly by the other humans. Maybe he thinks he's as inferior as I am because of that.She suppressed a laugh to herself, I feel sorry for him, thinking that he's as low as a stupid Keidran.Naïve indeed.

Will snapped fingers in front of her face, "You coming or not?"

She shook her head slightly and blinked rapidly, "Right, sorry, yeah, coming." They both started walking. Her back and, more importantly, her shoulders, were much happier not to be laden with a pack. Perhaps her shoulders would be better healed by the time they started on the way back. When were they headed back, speaking of? She asked Will this.

"The 28th. Four days, three nights."

Her eyes went wide, her mouth dropped open and her large fox-like ears fell in astonishment. Even her tail went lax. "What all are we doing?"

"The first and last day are mostly just hiking, if you haven't figured it out yet. The first day's gonna be merit badge classes. The second, the older boys will teach us a lot of outdoor skills."

"I thought you were an older boy?"

"No," he said, "Not until I get my" - he said an unfamiliar Human word - "rank."

"Oh. But you've done this before?" Michaela was again confused"

"Yes, in Templar" - another unfamiliar word - "The Templar Youth have separate ranks and badges."

Michaela but nodded.

Will chuckled, "Don't dwell on it. It's nothing important."

Michaela giggled, "Don't worry, I never planned on it."

Will nodded. "Good girl." The remark stung for the moment before she realized he'd stuck his tongue out at her - a Human gesture of amiability.

Seeing that, she rolled her eyes and kept walking. She was constantly walking, it seemed. I suppose it is a hike for a reason,isn't it? Her paws still hurt. She could only imagine how Will's feet, laden with probably fifty kilos of weight, felt. Not to mention, they were encapsulated within those terribly uncomfortable-looking things humans called shews. Why did they wear the things? Going barepaw had to be better than walking on wood. No matter; his loss, not hers. So they kept walking, walking and talking for what seemed an eternity. But they did finally make it to their campsite, a little plateau on the side of a mountain. It was a nice enough place, a little cold for Michaela's liking, but very nice. Flat with very few trees and grass too low for predators to hide in. Will picked the place for their tent, a little spot of high ground in the middle of the plateau, closer to the far edge. Will picked it because it was flat, but still raised high enough for water not to flood it and close to the stream that ran by the edge of the outcropping. Michaela was satisfied with his reasoning and placement and didn't protest (not that she would have anyhow).

And then they began the process of setting the tent up. For Michaela, who was inexperienced, it was some kind of monster to set up. Will told her it was one of the easier ones. She wasn't sure if she should have believed him or not. There were two poles that had to be set up at just the right angle and six ropes to be tied off. Ten stakes had to be hammered into the rough ground. Despite all the trouble, they finally did get it set up. That done, he put their stuff in it and told her not to lay her blankets out yet or some creature would cozy up in them. Michaela didn't think that that would be too nice, so she left the blankets and pillow neatly bundled.

It was almost dark by that time. It got dark rather fast, the sun setting early behind the mountain to the west of them. The boys all huddled around the campfire. She and Will sat on a tall stump behind and separate from all the other boys. She noted that Will was very much separated from the rest of the boys by some unspoken words. Michaela had to wonder if that was a product of her being there or if that invisible, unspoken and unbroken barrier was present nonetheless.

The masters started telling ghost stories, as was rather to be expected of them. The first two stories were about Keidran killing humans. Will leaned over to whisper in Michaela's ear, "I'm tired of this bull. I'm tired, too. Let's head to the tent."

He really doesn't realize how terrible we are,does he?Michaela thought and followed him to their tent, a good fifty meters from the campfire. They weren't the first persons to leave the campfire, many of the youth who'd only just joined had been to bed long ago. Michaela shivered as they walked. It had been a little cold when they got there. It was freezing cold now that the sun no longer shone above them. They entered the tent. Michaela unrolled the blankets and set the pillow down at the head of it, fluffing it up.

Will unrolled his sleeping bag and crawled in it, facing the opposite way of Michaela, his feet next to her head. "You might want to flip around," he said. "You always want your head going uphill or you'll get heartburn."

Michaela nodded to the darkness and moved herself and the pillow. She turned her head to the side and looked at Will. He smiled and rolled over, "'Night, Michaela. If you're as tired as I think you are, you'll sleep well."

"You're probably right," she said and tossed around, trying to get comfortable. She finally did find a comfortable spot, but shivered with cold. She wondered why her fur wasn't keeping her warm. Figures. The one time I want the stuff, it doesn't do what I want it to do,she thought as she shifted around some more, trying to get warmer. She felt bad for moving around so much, it had to be keeping Will up, but she couldn't help it. The blanket wasn't warm enough, and it kept coming up, leaving her paws bare and even colder. Then she had to sit up and fix the cover, lay back down and try to go to sleep. It usually moved again a few minutes later.

After what seemed like an eternity, Will rolled over to face her, "I take it you can't sleep either?"

"Yeah," she said, "cold."

"Me, too."

"I'm thinking about putting the blanket that's under me over me."

"No," he said, "the ground is very cold. That'll only make you colder."

"Oh," she muttered.

"At least you can shift the covers to get warmer."

Michaela didn't respond.

"Tell you what," Will said, "Give me the blankets and I'll put them in my sleeping bag."

The control spell made her do it, no matter how much she didn't want to. I guess I was wrong about him, after all,she thought as she begrudgingly gave him the blankets. He climbed out of the sleeping bag and arranged the blankets in it. He climbed back into it. Michaela stared at him remorsefully.

"Well, don't just stand there," he said, "get in. It's the only way I can think of to keep us both warm."

No, I was perfectly right about him, after all, she thought with a smile. The sleeping bag was incredibly warm. Michaela was asleep in no time.