Loose Boots, Rock N Roll, and Hell Hath No Fury

Antonia strolled down the path, her mind wandering deep in thought as she considered the story that David had been telling to the younger students. A story about a small person that was on the way to accomplish very large things. Secretly, she couldn't wait till tomorrow night, just to hear him finish the tale. She wanted to know what this little character called 'Bilbo' would accomplish and how? As she came around the final bend in the path she spied David, seated on the log, dressed in a pair of blue short pants and a simple dark pullover shirt. He was fidgeting with a pair of sandals and muttering to himself.

He looked up when she approached and he smiled in greeting.

"Hey, Tony," he said cheerily. "What's shakin?"

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"My wife bought these for me," David grunted as he wrestled with them. "She said they would be more comfortable than those boots I always wear." He fussed with them for a while more and then pulled them off, tossing them to the side. "They aren't, but Gabrielle meant well." He shrugged.

"Where is she?" Antonia asked. David caught a touch of nervousness in her voice.

"She's taking the evening off," David replied easily. "It's just you and me and a lot of music tonight."

"I still don't understand this whole thing about dancing?" Antonia said as she watched David put his strange device together.

"Because, my dear," he explained. "In order to do what you want to do, you need more than technique. You need to be able to feel it. You have to feel what your opponent might do and adapt in an instant. Follow?"

"I think so," Antonia replied. "But I don't see why that matters. The techniques should be enough, shouldn't they?"

"Not really," David said. "The techniques you've learned are starting points. They tell you what types of moves you can use, but not when you should use them. Your instincts will tell you that. The rhythm of your opponent will give you clues as to his next move, or show you how to adjust to different opponents in an instant. You can't see all that if you're trying to make sure that you're throwing a punch the right way?"

"But I came her to learn how to fight," Antonia replied.

"When to fight, actually," David responded, smiling. "Being able to avoid a fight can be just as important as winning one. It's not just about coming down here to learn how to kick ass and take names? The other studies are just as important. You can't just want to be a bad ass?"

"No," Antonia replied. "I want to be able to defend others." She paused and looked down.

David nodded in understanding.

"Something happened, and you weren't able to do anything to stop it, right?" He asked.

When she looked up at him, there was a haunted expression on her face.

"You don't have to tell me about it, if you don't want to," David nodded. Then his smile began to reassert itself, breaking the tension. "But you still have to learn how to dance."

"I know how to dance," Antonia said in a subdued voice. "I just don't anymore."

David sat down on the log and looked at her closely. Again, he nodded and reached behind him into his knapsack.

"You know," he said casually. "Where I come from there are two types of people that others go to when they need advice, or someone to listen to them. One type is called psychologists," He tapped the side of his head. "These shrinks go to school for years just to learn how the brain works." He actually saw a smile on her lips.

He resumed fishing about in his pack. "The second type also goes to school, but for a completely different reason. They learn how to mix drinks."

"Mix drinks?" Antonia asked.

"Bartenders," David smiled. He produced a bottle of wine and two cups from his bag.

"Good evening miss," He said formally. "My name is David and I'll be your bartender tonight. Sit on down, have a drink, and tell me your troubles."

Antonia's eyes widened and then something remarkable happened. Her face actually lit up and she laughed for a few moments as she sat down next to him.

"We aren't allowed to drink at the academy," She cautioned him.

"Ah," David nodded as he popped the cork and poured the wine into the two cups. He lifted one to the young woman and smiled. "But we aren't in the academy at the moment, are we?" He tapped his cup against hers and took a drink. "Just don't tell my wife. If she finds out I've contributed to the delinquency of a minor, it'll be my ass in a sling."

Antonia looked up the path and at the shadowy line of the wall just beyond the trees. She considered the logic for a moment and shrugged. Then she took a drink.

"Now, then," David continued. "Since I am your bartender tonight, and not your teacher. Let's just the two of us talk, okay?"

"I thought I was supposed to learn how to dance?" Antonia asked.

"But you just said you already know how," David countered easily. "You just don't anymore. Why is that?"

At that question, Antonia's momentary lightness faded and she looked down at the ground.

"Because it never did me any good," she said quietly.

David's gaze softened and he nodded. "How so?"

Antonia said nothing, but the emotions that bled through her stony veneer told David all he needed to know.

"Who died?" he asked gently. "And how?"

She looked up at him in surprise.

David took a drink and looked at her expectantly.

"My whole family," She admitted. "My brother, my mother, and my father."

"My first wife also died, some years ago," David said. "It took a while for me to get back on my feet too."

"Right after I came here," Antonia confessed. She looked up towards the keep and sighed. "The only reason I stayed was because I didn't have anywhere else to go, really."

"And yet," David said thoughtfully. "You bust your ass harder than anyone else in this place?"

Antonia considered for a moment, as if she were weighing whether David was worthy of a response.

"So that when I leave here, I can make sure the same thing that happened to my family doesn't happen to anyone else." She finally said.

David refilled both cups and waited for her to continue.

"They were killed a few months after bringing me here." She finally said. "A war party came through the area and just wiped out everything."

"How did you find out about it?"

Another family, bringing one of their children here, told the Head," Antonia said. "I just stood in the back of the class and listened when he made the announcement to us. I couldn't say anything. It was like something had stolen my voice. I just went to my room and looked out the window towards my home," she shrugged. "Something died inside me."

David nodded again and dutifully refilled the cups a second time. "I don't think it died, Tony," he said. "I think it just slipped away and hid for a while, waiting."

"Waiting for what?" Antonia asked.

"The right time to wake up again?" David suggested.

"I don't know if it can," Antonia said.

David set the bottle down, drained his cup and stood, fiddling with the MP3 player for a few moments.

"Let's find out, shall we?" he asked. He pressed the play button and a slow, soft ballad began to echo through the trees.

David stood and held out his hand. He smiled at her softly.

"Come on, kiddo," he said. "I think you've been sleeping long enough. Don't you?"

As if she were lifting a heavy load, Antonia stood up and took David's hand. Gently, he began leading her around the clearing in a slow, deliberate dance.

She was stiff and nervous at first, but as the music played and the wine settled in, her feet seemed to find the rhythm again, and she began to loosen up a little. David noticed this and smiled. He also noticed a wistful expression on the young girl's face. She was somewhere else, deep in a happy memory. She closed her eyes and let herself drift into that place as she moved.

At the edge of the clearing, high in the branches of a tree. Rasten sat perched, watching the events unfold below. He smiled in spite of himself as he saw a side of Antonia that he had never seen before, slowly waking up. He had watched her from a distance, ever since she had come to the school, but never said anything. Every time he had tried to approach her, he had felt his throat constrict.

He stayed for a long time, just watching and then quiet as a mouse. He dropped back down to the ground and stole up to the keep.

He was nearly through the main gate when a familiar voice issued from a dark opening off to the side.

"Spying again, eh Rat?" Quintis asked. "Anything that I should know?"

Rasten almost jumped out of his skin.

"Oh, hi Quintis," Rasten said nervously. Then he shook his head. "No, nothing really. They're just down in the clearing, dancing. That's all. Nothing big."

One eyebrow rose up in amusement. "Nothing else?" Quintis stepped up and began walking with Rasten, one arm slung casually over his shoulder. "You sure about that? I mean, you wouldn't be holding out on me, would you?"

Rasten laughed nervously. "No! Of course not! Why would you think that?"

"Because," Quintis said lightly, though his gaze remained icy. "I've watched you, watching her from a distance all these years. Fawning over her like a lost puppy."

"I have not!" Rasten protested lamely.

"You like her, don't you?" Quintis said. Then he sighed. "What makes you think she might like you too? Come on, Rat. You and I both know that could never happen."

Rasten thought about protesting, but reconsidered when he saw the look in Quintis's eyes.

"I just don't want to see her get hurt, you know?" He finally stammered.

"I don't either," Quintis said with false sincerity. "And the best way for that to happen is for her not to compete. If she steps into the circle with one of us, she will get hurt, and you don't want that, do you?"

He looked up at the keep. "It's simple, really. You don't want her hurt, and I want to go to Athens, so, the best solution? We make sure she doesn't compete, right?"

"You'll go to Athens, regardless," Rasten started. He stopped when he saw the look in Quintis's eyes. He almost didn't want to believe it, but there was doubt in them. "Won't you?" He finished.

Quintis smiled and patted Rasten on the shoulder. "Not if you don't get that philosophical paper done for me?" He ushered Rasten off and watched as the boy departed, then his gaze went dark.

"Time to see what this stranger is made of," he growled. "But I have to do it in a way that won't get me in trouble with the Head." He pondered that for a moment and then a smile crept across his face.

David looked down at Antonia as they moved about the clearing. He was surprised to see a touch of levity in her face.

When they finally stopped, he smiled.

"What do you know," he commented. "There's a girl in there after all."

Antonia smiled in spite of herself. She could feel that part of her, dormant for all those years, slowly stirring again, and she liked it.

"That was too slow," Antonia said, her stoic expression collapsing in a widening smile.

David's eyebrows rose. "Too slow?"

He pulled the small player out and began adjusting several things on the small green screen.

"Too slow, huh," he muttered to himself. "One minute she can't even two step, and now she's ready to do the Charleston?" He finished fidgeting with the screen and handed the thing to her along with the small pair of earphones.

"Put these in your ears," he offered. "Volume is right here. Just touch this button and enjoy."

He drew it back close to him suddenly.

"Understand something," he said. "This is my last link to my home. Please don't lose or break this?"

Antonia took the thing gingerly and nodded.

David smiled and waved theatrically. "Good. Now, go my child. Dance! Be free!"

She put the small speakers in her ears and pressed the button as she walked away. Even before she had vanished down the path, David saw the spring starting in her step.

"God forgive me," he muttered. "I've just introduced a sheltered teen to The Crystal Method."

Shaking his head, he cleaned up the rest of the stuff, popping the cork back in the bottle. He eyed it for a moment and then pulled the cork free, taking a long pull at the bottle, then he refastened the cork in place.

"All in all," he said with a smile. "A good night."

He stared up into the stars for a while and then made his way back towards the castle.

As he passed into the main courtyard he spied several students lounging by some of the gear. The tallest one, Quintis saw him approach and smiled.

"Good evening, Master," he greeted him. David caught the subtle scorn in the way the boy said 'Master', but he ignored it.

"Little late, isn't it guys?" He asked.

"Well," Quintis replied. "We upperclassmen have certain liberties, and I thought it would be interesting to meet the new teacher that showed up."

"Ah," David nodded. He could feel where this was going, even if he hadn't seen the other four young men flanking him. "And what would you like to know?"

"I just can't see why the Head keeps recruiting all these old guys to teach us," Quintis smiled. "I mean, you're, what, forty?"

"Thirty one," David replied grimly.

"That's what I mean," Quintis continued. "You're reflexes are totally shot. How are you supposed to teach us?"

David shook his head. "Son, I know what you're trying to do, and I have to tell you. You really don't want to do this."

"No?" Quintis replied. "I think it's our duty to see if our teachers are really qualified to pass on their training to us? What do you think boys?"

"I think you boys are supposed to be in your bunks," Another voice said from the darkness of the nearby archway.

They all turned and saw Ioulas step from the shadows, his white hair shining in the moonlight; his eyes were sharp and blue.

Quintis and his friends looked from the assistant head master to David and back before they reluctantly withdrew.

"Some other time, then, Master?" Quintis offered as he backed away.

"Any time," David replied darkly. "And it's Mister Forester to you."

Quintis gave a mock bow of his head and withdrew. Ioulas watched them depart before letting a sigh escape his lips.

David stepped up next to him. "Thanks."

Ioulas looked back at him skeptically.

"Understand something, young man," he said. "I don't particularly care for you. But Gabrielle seems happy. As long as she stays that way, we won't have a problem."

David was taken momentarily aback. Then he smiled.

"She means a lot to you, doesn't she?" He asked.

Ioulas looked at him hard. "More than you could ever understand."

"Good," David nodded. "Then we have something in common. Because if I ever set out to hurt her, on purpose, I would want someone like you to run me through and leave me for the crows." He nodded his head to Ioulas. "Good night, Master." And he headed down the passage.

"I get the impression that you don't take me seriously," Ioulas called after him.

David stopped and turned his head back.

"On the contrary, Ioulas," he said. "I pray that you are."

The next morning, the students all assembled in the main courtyard for their morning drills before moving to their various studies.

As Hercules and Ioulas strode around, inspecting the students, Hercules noticed Antonia off to one side. He tapped Ioulas on the arm and pointed.

"Would you look at that?" he said smiling.

Ioulas followed Hercules gaze and spied the small woman. His mouth dropped open in surprise for a moment before coming back in a grin.

Antonia was off by herself, dancing to some unheard music. They saw the two thin white wires protruding from her ears, and glimpsed the tiny white box in her hand. It wasn't the dancing or the strange accoutrements that made them smile. It was the look of happy rapture on her face a she danced.

"I think David might be right," Hercules commented. "I don't know how he did it, but?" He shrugged.

"I want to know," Ioulas said and he strode towards the young woman.

"Ioulas, wait!" Hercules called after him.

Her back was to him as she danced, skipping from side to side.

"Miss Antonia?" Ioulas said quietly. The young woman seemed not to hear him. He thumped his staff on the ground impatiently. "Miss Antonia!" he finally called out.

Instantly she wheeled and pulled the two objects from her ears.

"Yes Master?" she asked, standing at attention.

"What are you doing?" Ioulas asked as Hercules stepped up next to him.

"Dancing, sir," Antonia replied dutifully.

"See," Hercules said, trying to smooth over Ioulas's rough mood. "We couldn't hear any music playing, so we were wondering how you were dancing?"

To their considerable surprise, the young woman actually, genuinely smiled and handed the two small earpieces to the Head Master.

Curious, Hercules placed the small object to his ear and his eyebrows rose when he heard the rhythmic thumping of music unlike anything he had ever heard before. He pressed the small speaker into his ear, better to hear it.

It was percussive and tribal with touches of other instrumentation and tones he had never heard before, many of them sounding distinctly alien in nature.

He removed the device and handed it to Ioulas who also put the small speaker to his ear and listened for a few moments before removing it and grimacing.

"That doesn't sound like any music I've ever heard before," he said critically. "Where did you get this?"

"Master David loaned it to me," Antonia replied calmly.

Hercules and Ioulas looked at one another in surprise.

"Well," Hercules said, clearing his throat. "It's definitely interesting?"

"I don't like it," Ioulas said tersely. "You kids shouldn't be listening to that stuff."

"Master David said it would help me find my sense of rhythm again, and help me with my improvisational skills in the circle," Antonia offered.

"Well," Hercules said with a smile. "The rhythm part seems to be working."

"Herc," Ioulas pleaded.

"I think we'll let Master David do what he thinks is best, for now," Hercules continued. "That way we can see how far you've come at the beginning of next week, in the tournament?"

Antonia's eyes lit up. "You mean that?"

Hercules nodded. "If you feel that you're up to it?"

Antonia looked like she was about to burst. She nodded quickly. "I'll be ready, Master."

Hercules looked up to see the stocky form of Paulo standing on the training stage above and he smiled.

"Very well, then," he said, rolling his hand toward her. "You may continue."

Behind Paulo, Rasten heard the Head Master's declaration and he smiled. The expression suddenly faded when he realized what this might mean. He looked about quickly and didn't see any of Quintis's boys about. Sighing inwardly he stepped quickly away and went to the far side of the stage, resuming his exercises.

Off to one side, Gabrielle was teaching several of the female students various Amazon techniques while David simply watched and made subtle corrections when he saw something that was amiss.

Quintis and his boys arrived in the late morning, just as Hercules and Ioulas were getting ready to do their usual tour of the academic wing.

Quintis approached the Head Master and the two exchanged a few words.

Hercules looked over at David and then back again. Finally, he stood up and gestured to David and Gabrielle.

"Master David!" he called.

"Sir!" David got to his feet.

"Master Quintis would like the opportunity to see what you can do?" Hercules offered.

"Uh, Herc," Ioulas said quickly. "I caught Quintis and his friends trying to ambush David last night?"

"Really?" Hercules replied. "Well, then this might teach him some of that humility that he's been lacking, hmm?"

"But we don't even know if he can fight?" Ioulas said anxiously.

"Oh, I think if he's been traveling with Gabrielle, he's probably had to pick up a few things?" Hercules replied. "Our lives were hardly boring, and I suspect theirs has been about the same?"

Gabrielle looked up at David. "Does this have anything to do with what you told me about last night?"

David nodded. "Probably. I think the kid wants to make a name for himself."

The students all arranged themselves around the central stage, looking back at him expectantly.

"Can you take him?" Gabrielle asked.

David pulled his boots off and smiled as he walked towards the stage.

"Hey?" he said lightly. "It's me."

He jumped up onto the stage opposite the young warrior and smiled.

Hercules stood between them, watching both their faces.

"This is a simple three fall contest," Hercules said sternly. "Understood. You may use any techniques you wish. If I call a halt, you will separate and go to the edge of the circle until I say otherwise. Clear?"

"Very clear," Quintis said, his body tense for the coming confrontation.

"Master David?" Hercules was mildly surprised to see him standing at ease, as if he had no intention of fighting.

"Clear, sir," David said.

"Very well," Hercules stepped back to the edge of the stage. He looked at the two of them for a moment and then said. "Begin!"

Quintis was in a fighting crouch while David remained at ease and upright. He folded his arms across his chest and waited.

Quintis didn't know what to think. He was being baited, that was plainly obvious. To do nothing would cause him to lose face, but to attack would undoubtedly send him straight into an ambush.

David took a couple of casual steps toward him and looked up at the sky.

"Almost lunchtime, kid," he said. "I'd like to get through this before then, if you don't mind?"

Quintis hesitated for a moment and then charged in. In a move almost too fast to see, David simply sidestepped and threw the young man over. He landed with a thump on the stage and rolled immediately to his feet, his eyes wide in shock.

"One fall," Hercules stated.

Quintis seemed about to protest when he saw David standing on the opposite side of the stage, smiling. Quintis was mildly annoyed to realize that he couldn't even remember feeling David's hands on his body. The move had been that fast!

"Not bad for a guy whose reflexes are supposedly shot?" David said. "Don't you think?"

Down on the ground, Gabrielle smiled knowingly.

David shrugged. "I'm sorry. You were looking for something more traditional, right?" He dropped into a fighting stance, left hand inside, his fingers cupped to resemble the hooded form of cobras. Slowly, he began moving them back and forth with hypnotic fluidity as he slid in towards the confused young man. "Is this more to your liking?"

The fluid movements in David's arms seemed to extend through his entire body as he easily deflected all of Quintis's attacks before finally slipping up behind the young man and sweeping his legs out from beneath him.

Quintis landed so hard that he was momentarily stunned as the wind blasted from his lungs. He rolled over and got slowly to his feet, forcing his lungs to take in air.

"Two falls!" Hercules called. This time, many of the students cheered

David slid up next to Hercules.

"I apologize in advance, Head Master," he said quickly. "There might be a little blood on the next one."

Hercules nodded and gave a little shrug. "He asked for this."

"Just so we understand one another," David replied and he slid away. Instantly his stance changed again. He stood on the balls of his feet, bouncing gently as he rubbed his thumb against his nose, assuming a traditional boxer's stance.

"This is a little number I picked up from ESPN," David said with a grin.

Quintis was completely out of sorts at this point. He watched this third form and reluctantly shuffled in again.

He was quick, to his credit, and managed a few hits, but in the end. David bobbed and weaved until he came up and caught the young man with a quick jab to the gut.

"Float like a butterfly," David said, jabbing again.

Quintis gasped before the second jab found his nose, then the third as well, and finally the uppercut that sent him sprawling, dazed and nearly unconscious.

"Sting like a bee." David finished.

Hercules looked at the young man in surprise. Then back at David who had barely broken a sweat.

David looked at Hercules and smiled. "Ali versus Foreman, nineteen seventy four, I think?"

"Uh, three falls," Hercules said in mild shock.

Quintis slowly rolled over and got back to his feet. His face was a mask of rage as David turned to go.

In fury, he charged. David simply sidestepped again and wrapped the young boy up, flipping him over and coming back with his knee on the boy's chest, his fist poised to strike.

"We done?" he asked without humor. "Or do I finish it here?"

Quintis wiped blood from his nose and looked back up at the man above him. David merely raised a questioning eyebrow.

"We're done," Quintis finally said. "Thank you, Master."

David rose and extended his hand to the boy. Quintis brushed it aside and got to his feet, moving away from him, but occasionally looking back at him in mild shock.

"Well," Hercules said. "So much for that lesson in humility?"

"I don't mean to be critical, Head Master," David said. "But you could have a problem with that one? You know what they say? Pride goeth before the fall."

"Who said that?" Hercules asked.

"Hmm?" David was focusing on the boy's aura. "Oh, I don't know. I just heard it somewhere is all."

When he looked back, Quintis was gone. "Damn."

"Pretty good," Gabrielle said as she slipped up next to him and inspected his side where Quintis had managed to land a decent kick. "Anything bruised or broken?"

"No," David replied. "I'm fine."

"And I was so looking forward to taking care of your wounds tonight, too." Gabrielle teased.

David smiled and threw his arm over her shoulders.

"I guess you'll have to settle for just taking advantage of me then?" He smiled.

They looked over and saw Antonia looking at them with an expression of wonder. David gave her a wink and the two of them resumed their exercises with the other young women.

Quintis sat in his room, fuming. He looked about at the four expectant faces that stared back at him.

"Well, guys," he said as he threw the wet rag on the table. "It sees we can't do anything about the teacher. I guess that means we have to remove the student?"

One of the boys, a lean blonde haired boy named Atrophis swallowed.

"Uh, Quintis," he asked. "That could get us all in trouble with the Head. A lot of trouble."

Quintis fixed him with a reptilian stare. "Only if it happens within the walls. Antonia and David have been meeting outside the grounds for the past few nights."

Atrophis smiled knowingly. "So if something happens out there, we couldn't be held responsible?"

From his place within the ventilation shaft, Rasten heard Quintis reply.

"As the Head Master is always saying," he said. "It's a dangerous world."

He looked about at his 'men'.

Atrophis, Trajen, and Darus will come with me," Quintis finally said. "We'll pay her a little visit on the way down to the clearing tonight."

The five men all laughed quietly in the gloom.

Rasten heard all this and felt his stomach knot in horror. As quietly and quickly as he could, he backed out of the vent and crawled down another narrow way towards the stranger's room.

Gabrielle was sitting in the courtyard, absently watching the heavens as she was wont to do at night. She smiled faintly as she watched the minute twinkling high above her head. A sound brought her gaze back down and she spied a single shadowy figure standing a respectful distance away.

"Who's there?" she called out. A young woman, about twenty years of age stepped into the pale moonlight. She had long dark hair and fierce, dark eyes.

"Forgive me for disturbing you," she said sincerely. "But I was wondering if I might speak with you for a moment?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "Sure. Hop on up." She patted the edge of the stage invitingly.

The young woman jumped easily to the stage and settled down next to the Amazon.

"I'm Kitia," she said, extending her hand.

"Gabrielle," Gabrielle replied, grasping her forearm. "What can I do for you?"

"Um," Kitia said nervously. "Several of the girls from the class today are competing in the tournament next week, and we know that we're not ready to face off against some of the boys. Traditionally, most of us end up with bruises and stiff muscles whenever there's a tournament. A group of us want to change that, and we think you and your husband might be able to help?"

Gabrielle shrugged. "I can teach you what I know," she offered. "But that's all I can offer you?"

"What about the things that your husband is teaching Antonia?" Kitia asked quickly. "She seems greatly, um," she paused.

"More relaxed?" Gabriele finished for her.

"Yes," Kitia replied. "And much more confident?"

Gabrielle sighed. "My husband has an uncanny ability to make people feel more comfortable with themselves. Or he just makes them angry enough to where they don't worry about it?" she shrugged and smiled. "I can't speak for him, but you can ask him when he comes down?"

Kitia nodded. "And the Amazon Nation that you ruled?' she asked. "Does it still exist, somewhere?"

Gabrielle nodded. "It's small, but growing. Why?"

Kitia shrugged sheepishly. "I've been thinking of joining them after I graduate?"

Gabrielle frowned. "What about your family?"

"Oh, I don't have any, really. Just a brother back in Athens, and he's too wrapped up in his business to really bother with me right now. Besides, I need to strike off on my own when I graduate, you know?"

Gabrielle patted the young girl's knee. "I think I understand." They both turned towards the darkened archway as a long melodious notes echoed from within.

"What in the world?" Gabrielle asked as she heard the short, metallic notes rising and falling in song.

David emerged, his two hands cupped around a small silver object. He was blowing into it and moving the object from side to side, making it wail.

"David?" Gabriele called, laughing. "What is that thing?"

"Just my harmonica,' David held the device up. "I've been practicing with it, occasionally, since I got here. And I must say, I'm getting better at it, I think?"

He shrugged.

"What are you doing out here?"

Gabrielle smiled. "Just looking at the stars, and having a conversation."

"Ah," David nodded. "Girl stuff? I'll leave?" He pointed with his thumb behind his shoulder at the main gate.

"Actually," Gabrielle smiled. "Kitia, here, has an interesting notion."

"Really?" David smiled. He looked up at the sky and sighed. "Well, I suppose Antonia can wait for a moment. What's up?"

David listened as Gabrielle recapped the conversation. He looked at Kitia thoughtfully and a smile crept across his face. "And how many of you feel this way?"

Kitia looked hopeful. "Five others also feel the same way I do. We want a fighting chance this year and we think that the two of you are the only chance we have?"

David was mulling the idea over, his finger tapping his lower lip, when another figure came running out into the courtyard.

"Master David!" the young man cried in exhaustion. "Master David!"

David caught the young man by the shoulders.

"Easy now," he said as he held the boy at bay. "What's got you so fired up?"

"Quintis, sir!" the boy stammered. "He and several others are on the way to ambush your student!"

David's face went stony. He fixed the young man with a hard glance and saw that the boy was telling the truth.

"And how do you know about it?"

"I overheard them sir," The boy gasped. "From inside the ventilation shaft!"

"Inside the vent?" David said in surprise. "What were you doing in the vent?"

"Please, sir!" The boy was begging now. "I don't know what else to do! I can't handle Quintis and his friends on my own! "They're going to do something terrible to her, I know it!"

David broke away from the panicked boy and began trotting towards the gate.

"Kitia!" he called over his shoulder. "The answer's yes! Get your friends together and meet me in the clearing as quick as you can!"

Kitia's expression exploded in delight and she darted off.

"Honey!" David called again. "When the girls get back, bring them down with you!"


The music, strange as it was, was thundering between Antonia's ears as she danced her way down the path towards the clearing. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so good - so happy. She spun in concert with the music and bounced right into a single, large figure standing in the path before her.

Instantly the small speakers were pulled from her ears and she stood up straight, backing away a few steps.

The figure was dressed in dark colors, and wore a mask to conceal his features.

"Who are you?" she asked nervously.

The lead figure stepped up and reached for the small white box in her hands. He missed when she drew it back close to her body protectively. Two more figures emerged from the foliage to either side of her.

"What do you want?" she asked, feeling a knot of dread forming in her belly.

"Been having fun with the new teacher?" one of the figures asked, his voice laced with scorn. He shrugged his shoulders. "We were just wondering if you had learned anything constructive?"

In a quick move, the figure that spoke slammed is open palm against Antonia's sternum and sent the girl stumbling back into the confining arms of the other two masked men.

The first figure shook his head. "Obviously, he hasn't taught you much, has he?" He stood before her and then his hand smacked across her face. "You'll be dropping out of the tournament. Otherwise, we'll make sure you're in no condition to fight, got it?"

"You're boots are too tight," the thought echoed in Antonia's head, masking out the growing helplessness and panic. "Do something they don't expect. Do something wrong."

She did the first thing that came to mind, and kicked up squarely into the jaw of the first man, flipping over backwards and landing on her feet behind the other two.

Suddenly, another pair of arms grasped her from behind and held her roughly in place.

"Nice move," a voice growled in her ear. "Let's see what other moves you got, huh?"

Suddenly, a long mournful series of notes rose and fell from the trees above, like a haunting spirit. The four figures looked up and saw a huge shape perched like a bird on an overhanging branch.

David slipped the harmonica back into his pocket and looked down at them. He shook his head.

"Boys, boys, boys," he chided them. "Four on one? Come on now. After only a couple days? That hardly seems fair?"

His smile faded and his expression became something much darker. "Didn't your mothers teach you not to pick on girls?"

"So, what?" one figure said with just a touch of nervous angst. "So you jump in and save her?"

David shook his head. Antonia's eyes went wide.

"Nope." He said. "You guys obviously have to do this, for whatever reason. If I jump in there, one or more of you might end up dead, so?" He shrugged and held one hand out. "I'll just even the odds a little." His eyes closed and he began muttering in concentration.

Suddenly, it was like someone had turned off the moon and stars in an instant. The world about them fell into complete and total blackness.

"Tony!" David called out. "There are four of them and only one of you! Hit anything near you!"

The darkness was a column of black rising from the forest floor straight up to the heavens and out of sight. David held his hand out and focused on maintaining it, even as the sounds of fighting began, along with several highly anxious male voices.

A particular series of grunts caught David's attention and then a figure went rolling out of the column, lying stunned on the path.

More sounds of fighting could be heard within the column as several people seemed to be grappling with one another, and then another series of strikes were heard. There was a cry of pain that was cut off by the sound of a loud smack.

David looked over and saw Gabrielle running down the path with half a dozen of the female students right behind her. He smiled.

"Nobis!" he called and the illusion fell away revealing the two remaining men facing one another, while Antonia stood several paces back in a ready stance. Behind her, the third figure lay on the ground in the fetal position, clutching at his groin.

The two remaining men turned to face Antonia. Then they were surrounded by the five other female students and Gabrielle, all of them had murder in their eyes.

David chuckled. "My, my," he said. "Looks like things have changed a bit, don't it?"

The two boys left standing turned back to back anticipating the attack.

The girls stood their ground, each of them ready to charge in.

"Now," David said. "I think the prudent thing for you would be to pick up that other trash and get your tails back up to the school. These ladies don't look like they're here for a social gathering?" He smiled. "I sure hope none of these ladies is one of your girlfriends? That could get interesting real fast?"

Gabrielle stepped to the side, opening the path for them.

Quickly, the two standing assailants gathered their fallen comrades and backed away from the angry girls, moving slowly up the path towards the gates.

"Oh, boys!" a voice called out to them, they paused in surprise when they saw it was the petite Antonia speaking. Her voice was filled with uncharacteristic confidence. "Don't come back here again!"

The boys turned and vanished up the path.

The laughter started as a low chuckle from all of them and rose to a chorus of joy. David dropped to the forest floor and put his arm around his wife. They watched as the five other girls surrounded Antonia, patting her on the shoulder and talking in rapid, excited voices.

"Well, honey," David said with a smile. "Looks like Team Amazon is ready to rumble?"

Gabrielle grinned broadly. She slapped the back of her hand against his chest and smiled. "Not quite," she said. "But I think they got the 'team' part down?"

David gestured towards the clearing. "After you. They are your girls, after all?"

Smiling smugly, Gabrielle led them down to the clearing.

part 4

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