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A Meeting Of Heroes
by Ishmael


"All right Kora, it's all loaded! I'll go tell the boss we're about to leave, you go get the rest of the troop."

"Gotcha."

Chaz watched the two men walk away from the covered cart. As soon as they were out of sight, he sprang up with a grin. He didn't know what was in it, but, chances were, it was something he needed. He ducked through the opening and took a quick glance around. The cart was filled with thick brown-leather bags. He grabbed one and darted out, not wanting to waste time by checking the contents.

He was almost safely around a street corner when the men came back. With a lot of other big, heavily armed men.

"Thief!" one of the men yelled, drawing his sword. Chaz gulped as the rest of them drew blades and started running toward him. He turned and sprinted around the corner, wondering what sort of load warranted that large a guard.

He almost ran into a beautiful woman dressed in red and black. With a friendly smile, he tossed the bag at her. She caught it, blinking. The guards rounded the corner, just as Chaz slipped into a doorway. They saw the bag in her arms, disregarded the memory of a twelve-year old boy being the culprit, and sprang at her, swords raised.

The woman blinked, seemed to decide that reasoning with fifty odd men with swords wasn't such a hot idea, and turned around, running. Chaz smiled in satisfaction as he watched the guards run right by him. He started to head back toward the now unguarded cart when a well-dressed man with a sword came running from a different street and saw him.

"There you are!" the man roared, red-faced. Chaz blinked, wondering why the man was after him. Not that it would be hard to find reasons. Then he recognized him.

Mira's father.

Chaz took off, with the man at his heels. Chaz was very fast, but, unfortunately, so was Mira's father. A minute later they had caught up with the guards who were still chasing the woman, and Chaz sighed at the irony of it all as he passed the guards and reached the woman's side. She seemed barely winded as she gave him a surprised glance and snatched a look back. Seeing the man chasing him, she chuckled and grinned at him.

"Been busy today, haven't you?" she said with a lighthearted laugh. Chaz wondered how she could laugh with that many swords behind her. He looked up as they turned a corner...and winced.

Dead end.

The woman didn't miss a step, and continued sprinting forward at the wall. Chaz decided he might be able to use her as a shield and kept pace as best he could, though she had turned her previous 'sprint' into something much faster. A glance back showed Mira's father gaining ground, and all the guards with a worryingly vicious look in their eyes. The guards were remembering the twelve-year old yellow-head at a rather inopportune time.

With incredible speed the woman's hand snatched a slicer from her waist, snapped it open, and flung it at the wall. It buried itself in the mortar between the wall's clay bricks and she leapt up, using it as a stepping-stone to the roof above.

Chaz started to wonder just who he'd gotten involved with, but followed her up anyway, his clumsy climb up at odds with the woman's stunningly graceful leap. A sword clanged into the wall below him. A white-gloved hand snatched him and dragged him over the top of the spherical roof, and through an opening into a small rain reservoir.

Which, thankfully, was empty.

"All right, while tossing this bag into my arms did demonstrate some fairly quick thinking, your sprinting form was pathetic. Don't you know that you run faster with your body upright?" The woman hefted the bag in one hand as she considered him, one eyebrow raised and a faint smile on her lips. The bag made a familiar, meseta-like clinking sound.

"Errr...I guess the swords were making me feel a little vulnerable. Sorry," said Chaz, wondering if the woman was going to turn him in.

"Well, there's one instinct you should break. What's your name, how old are you, and where are your parents?"

"I'm...uh...Chaz...uh...Ashley, and...um...twelve years," he stuttered, then met her gaze defiantly. "I've never met my parents, and I've lived on the streets as long as I can remember." For a moment her gaze seemed to soften with understanding sympathy. Then the amused look returned.

"I'm Alys Brangwin. Isn't twelve years a little young to be stealing money from Coptom's Aiedo-Uzo caravan?" Her eyes were dancing with laughter.

"A-Alys Brangwin? The famous hunter? The Eight Stroke Sword?" Chaz asked, stunned. She buried her face in her hands with a sigh.

"Yes, that's me. But that's a really stupid, completely undeserved nickname. That was a fluke. It never takes me eight strokes. Just one stroke does fine, most of the time."

"Um, sorry," Chaz said, his face suddenly going pale. "Did you say Coptom's caravan?" Coptom was the richest, most powerful man in Uzo.

"Yep. Who was that other man chasing you?"

"Uh...Mira's dad," Chaz replied, distracted.

Coptom.

His hopes for a few nights in a jail were dashed. Coptom was rather notorious for his heavy-handed justice, and the merchant prince was powerful enough to ignore the more conventional rules of law.

"Mira?" Alys asked, her eyebrow arching again.

"A pretty girl who I got a little too friendly with."

"At twelve years," Alys murmured. "Shocking." She stood up.

"Where are you going?" asked Chaz, feeling apprehensive.

"Me? You mean we. C'mon, we're going to talk to some caravan guards and an angry father, and then we're going to Aiedo."

"Aiedo? We? Huh?" Chaz said, confused.

"What, you don't want to be a hunter?"

*     *     *     *     *

Alys leaned back against her bedroll and chuckled as she looked at the boy's sleeping face. What had it been? Yes, a bag of expensive micha roots. And she'd tossed it right into Galf's arms as she rounded the corner, the Motavian trader's guards right at her heels.

She hadn't pulled it off quite as well as Chaz had, but it bought her a couple seconds. It might have even worked, if Galf hadn't grabbed her by her hair, spun her around, and slapped her a good five feet across the street. This had confused the guards a good deal.

What confused them even more was when she stood up and broke the hunter's nose. And it had confused everyone when Galf put his hands on his knees and burst out laughing with blood gushing out his nose.

Alys laughed again as she lay down. Next thing she knew, she had been with Galf in Aiedo, training under him as a hunter. She wondered if it was as sudden and surreal for Chaz.

The kid really did remind her of herself, even without the déjà vu. She hoped he wouldn't be as much trouble as she had been. She grinned and looked at him again. Maybe he'd grow up to be a famous hunter. Then again, she thought as she watched him put his thumb in his mouth, maybe not.

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