February 4, 2002: Okey dokey. ^_^ Finally got the remake of this story started. I like it a lot better than the original version that I had up here. This fic is YAOI, so if you don't like that... don't read it. And don't flame me for it. I've given you more than ample warning to turn back and find another fic. *g* I don't really feel like giving this a summary right now... maybe I'll do it later. *chibi walks off muttering about having to go to the bank and the post office and find herself a job* O_O Oi gevalt...

Note: OK... minor confusion. Korril (as he is called in this story) is the same character as Corwin (as he is called in later stories). Honestly, I'm not really sure that I like either name, so rather than go through and change everything in this story to match the later ones, I'm just going to leave it for now.

The view from the watchtower never changed. No matter what land it stood upon, no matter whose people it spied upon, the view was always the same. The lone sentry had long since lost track of how many times he had stood upon this wooden tower ready to cry a warning that was never needed. Ten years with this mercenary company had made him a bit lax in that regard. No one dared attack the Dragon's Company--not if they wished to keep their miserable lives.

With a small sigh he leaned out over the edge, bracing his hands on the railing. Sentry duty was one of the most boring details one could pull when the company wasn't part of an active campaign. It was his own bad luck that he'd been the one to pull it today. Perhaps no one would notice if he slipped away a little early...

Just as he was about to turn and head down the ladder he felt a light touch at his back just under his ribs. A soft, deadly voice caressed his ear, "You realize, Torrent, that if I were an enemy... you would be dead."

Torrent didn't even bother to turn. He just let out a low growl of frustration and gritted out, "Then why am I still alive... sir?" Insubordination... perhaps. If the Captain chose to view it that way. Likely, he wouldn't. Though they two had been acknowledged enemies since the day the Captain joined the Dragon's Company, their enmity allowed him a few liberties that he couldn't take with the other officers. A little insubordination was expected, almost encouraged.

It was his own bad luck that it had been the Captain to catch him shirking. If it had been the Dragon, it would have earned him a week on latrine detail. If it had been the Weaponsmaster, he'd have escaped with a good thrashing--the Commander might be getting on in years, but he could still run most of them around the salle like a bunch of green recruits. But the Captain didn't work that way. He would say nothing. He would do nothing. He would simply add this lapse in alertness to the silent tally that he kept in his head. Then, when the tally reached some predetermined total, the Captain would bring the evidence to the Dragon, and Torrent would face a court martial. No second chances, no begging for mercy. Just cold, swift justice. He'd seen it happen before. Ah, Darrvyn... what an efficient executioner you've created...

It was no secret that Torrent disliked the Dragon's second. It was also no secret that the enmity was mutual. Torrent suspected that even the Dragon was aware of the growing hatred between them. However, he wouldn't interfere until their feuding caused problems in battle. And in spite of the fact that Torrent had served him for far longer, he knew who would get the boot if such a situation should arise... and it wouldn't be their fiery-haired Captain.

So, in the interest of pushing off that inevitability as long as possible, he waited in silence for the Captain's parting shot--the answer to his question that would rip him to shreds and leave him bleeding. He wasn't disappointed. The Captain's voice was cold, so cold... "If I wasted my time killing every idiot I came across, I would never get any real work done."

When Torrent turned to respond, the Captain was already gone. He let out another growl, slammed his fist into the center pole and cursed. Someday he would find a way to bring the Captain down off his high horse. Someday he would prove to the Dragon how misplaced his trust was. Someday he would be rid of that damned, smug, noble-born bastard. Someday...

Alex paused in the shadows of the watchtower, waiting for Torrent to turn back to his duties before heading back to his own. The man was arrogant, quick to fly off the handle, and slow to think out his actions before committing to them. If that were not the case, he would have made officer long before now. It was a shame that the only task he seemed able to perform with any reliability was being Darrvyn's bodyguard--ironically enough, the one task that Alex occasionally wished he would shirk.

He kept an ear tuned to the sounds above him and came fairly close to smiling at the volatile explosion of cursing. Fostering Torrent's hatred of him had been a risk, but one that he thought well worth taking. With each confrontation, the swordsman's dislike and mistrust of him was honed. It kept Torrent more alert and aware and gave him a reason to keep his guard up--likely making him a far more effective bodyguard than he might otherwise have been. Not even a year ago, he wouldn't have even realized who it was that had snuck up on him.

When Torrent finally turned back to keeping watch, Alex stepped away from the watchtower. His next stop of the morning was the Weaponsmaster's tent. Once a year they took on a group of new recruits. They were allowed a grace period of one month before they started culling the ranks. The first cut was the Weaponsmaster's. The second was his. The few who remained after that second cut would be presented to Darrvyn for final approval. In truth, this was Alex's least favorite task. Either he was dashing the hopes and dreams of young men and women or he was condemning them to a life by the sword. Most didn't even understand what it was they were signing up for. They learned quickly. Those that didn't... they died quickly.

Alex reached the practice ring and hung back momentarily to observe the recruits going through their drills. They were good... they would have to be, simply to get this far. His gaze skipped around the ring, taking note of strengths and weaknesses and passing preliminary judgments. When his gaze made it to the far side of the ring, his eyes widened.

He stepped up behind the Weaponsmaster and commented quietly, "Either I've finally lost my mind or you have. How old is that girl, Korril?"

The older man jumped at his voice then treated him to a good, solid slap to the side of the head, "Blast it, kid, how many times have I told you not to sneak up on me?"

"More times than I can easily count," he answered without pause, "It's my great respect for you, Commander. I keep expecting that someday you'll hear me coming." This time he couldn't stop the smile from spreading across his face. The old Weaponsmaster was one of the few people that he felt on equal enough footing with to call a friend. Currently the man was griping good-naturedly about Alex's uncanny ability to sneak up on a person unawares, but underneath all of the irritation was a healthy helping of pride. Korril may not have been the one to lay the foundation of Alex's skills, but he'd been the one to help him hone them. He had every right to be proud. Alex smiled and patted him on the shoulder, "And you have, yet again, neatly side-stepped the question. How old is she?"

Korril shrugged and settled his weight back against the fence, "She says she's eighteen..." He ignored Alex's snort of disbelief and continued, "...but give an old soldier some credit. She can't be more than 15, probably more like 14."

Alex frowned, "You know we don't take on recruits that young."

The old man's gaze was measuring as he raised a hand to scratch at his chin, "True... true. But look at her, kid. She's a natural. A born and bred martial artist, I'd wager. Maybe her family fell on some hard times." Seeing no sympathy in the Captain's gaze, he spread his hands wide in entreaty, "Where else is she gonna go, Alex?"

Alex raised a hand to rub at his forehead, "We're not in the business of running an orphanage, Commander. If you want to adopt the girl, go ahead and do it, but I don't want a child in my fighting ranks."

"All right... I've got an idea." Before Alex could raise half a protest, Korril had called a halt to the drills and made a beckoning motion to the girl, "Shayla! Front and center. I've got someone I want you to meet."

The girl trotted up to the front of the group and snapped the Weaponsmaster a salute, "Yes, sir!" Her voice was firm, confident, indicative of a personality that would give no quarter nor ask it. The rest of her did nothing to make Alex discount that first assessment. The girl was small--she couldn't have been more than 4' 10"--her body was well-honed. Wiry rather than stocky, she seemed built for a strike-and-run style, much the same as he used, himself. The truth, however, was not in the body or the voice... it was in the eyes. Alex raised his own eyes, ready for whatever he might see when he met those ebony orbs. He was far from surprised at what he found. In spite of her obvious youth, her eyes were old... far too old for her scant sum of years to account for. She'd been through rough times and likely some even rougher trials to get this far, and seeing that, Alex couldn't turn her away without a fair shot. Leaning down to whisper into Korril's ear, he said, "I hope I won't regret this, old man." Raising both his head and his voice, he continued, "All right, girl... why don't you show me what you can do?"

A curt nod was all the warning he got before the girl launched into a... the only word Alex could think of was "dance". Her movements were graceful, precise, efficient, and like the rest of her, completely controlled. Her performance slowly evolved from that beautifully choreographed dance into something more feral and wild. But the girl's real skill became apparent when she added two daggers to the routine. Oh, she was good, all right--and not only physically. This was a brilliant psychological strategy. The dance ended as abruptly as it began, with the girl standing at silent attention in front of them. She was barely even breathing hard.

Alex smiled, a slow, predatory smile. Two could play at this game. He raised an eyebrow and turned that smile on the girl, "I admit you are impressive... with no opponent."

She didn't disappoint with her reaction. Her jaw clenched and her dark eyes blazed. "I can be equally impressive against an opponent... if it's the right opponent. Sir," was her clipped response.

Alex's smile widened, "You wouldn't be so arrogant as to imply that I might be that opponent, would you?"

The Captain was impressed yet again. In spit of the anger that could clearly be seen in her eyes, her body and voice were still controlled, oh so controlled. It made him wonder how and where she had learned that particularly valuable lesson. She merely bowed her head in acknowledgement, "If that is what the Captain wishes..."

Alex pulled his own daggers from their forearm sheaths and saluted her with one, "It is."

She accepted the news with equanimity, neither fear nor surprise showed in her eyes. A good sign. The girl saluted him with her own dagger, then dropped into a ready position, waiting for the Captain to make the first move. Alex shifted his grip on the dagger in his right hand, and with no further warning that that, lunged forwards. Her dagger met that first strike with a loud clang, and the battle was on. There was a fast and furious exchange of blows, then they both drew back, warily circling each other and looking for an opening. The girl initiated the next flurry of attacks, and Alex mentally re-evaluated his opinion of the girl. She was better than he'd first judged--Korril may well have been right. The girl had probably been using those daggers for longer than she could walk.

A sudden, vicious strike reminded him why he should be keeping his mind firmly on the fight. The girl had nearly gutted him with that last swipe. He offered her a look of grim approval before stepping back in to engage her. It was clear that she was beginning to tire--she'd likely been out in the hot sun running drills for the last two hours before engaging in this fight. It was nothing short of amazing that she'd held him off for this long. But enough was enough. It was time to finish this. Slipping one dagger in under her guard, Alex slammed the hilt against her right wrist, causing her to drop the one. While she was distracted by the loss, he locked the hilt of his other dagger around the one in her left wrist and twisted it out of her grasp. Once she had been disarmed, he stepped back and looked down at her. She obligingly dropped to one knee... but her gaze remained fixed on his. Alex met that burning stare with his own mild regard. Her pride was smarting, that was clear. She likely had never been bested--and if she had been, never with her own choice of weapons. Well, it was never too late to learn that there was always someone out there who was stronger and faster than you. Speaking of which...

In a motion nearly too fast for the eye to follow, Alex whirled and threw one of his daggers straight at the spot of black that he had noticed out of the corner of his eye. The figure didn't even flinch as he plucked the dagger out of thin air and gave him a cool look. The man held the dagger and lightly tapped the hilt against his other hand as he took the Captain in from top to bottom with his unflinching silver-eyed gaze. Eventually that hard mouth softened into a smile, then finally a laugh. He shook his head as he lightly tossed the dagger back to his second. His deep baritone voice as calm and cultured as any bred and trained in a Court, the Dragon said simply, "I would say that I saw that coming a mile away... but I wouldn't wish to insult your intelligence or your skills."

The Captain offered him a slow smile in return, "You can't exactly blame me for trying."

Darrvyn offered him another short chuckle, "No. Only for succeeding." The look in his eyes, however, easily said that he didn't believe that the Captain would ever seriously make an attempt on his life. In spite of what his enemies said about him, Alex knew that that was one of the Dragon General's only flaws--he trusted too easily. Hard though it was to believe, with his normally cold, hard, unforgiving exterior, Darrvyn still held a deep-seated belief in the goodness of people--especially those to whom he gave his trust. Considering their history, it never ceased to amaze Alex that he was counted among them.

Before anything further could erupt between them, Korril stepped into the silence with a scolding tone in his voice, "Children, children. If you're going to fight, step into the ring and do it honorably. If not, don't waste my time." While the other gathered officers spluttered at the Weaponsmaster's treatment of their General and Captain, he turned back to Alex and quirked an eyebrow, "And in spite of that little distraction, I assume you've formed an opinion?"

Before Alex even got a chance to open his mouth, Darrvyn drawled out, "For what it's worth, Alex, I haven't seen anyone--other than myself--give you that good a workout in some time."

Alex turned back to face the General, slowly and controlled, not allowing the other man to see how that barb had hit home. He merely quirked an eyebrow and allowed his mouth to stretch into a small smile, "Then perhaps we shouldn't take her on... if you're afraid of being so easily replaced in my affections."

Darrvyn stiffened, then forced himself to relax with another short laugh, "I don't think that will be a problem, Captain. Not in this lifetime." As he turned to leave he delivered one last parting shot over his shoulder, "It's about time we had a change of pace around here. Give the girl a uniform, Weaponsmaster. I'll see her in my tent in an hour."

To be continued...

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