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Justin woke to the face of a young lady in a floral gown.Her hair was piled upon her head and her eyes glittered the same green as the jade clip that held her hair out of her eyes.She smiled at him,and though she was obviously young her eyes held the wisdom of one who had lived a long,long time.

A girl came and tapped the woman's shoulder.“Edna,it's boiling.Shasta is stirring it now."

The woman nodded.“Very good Erica.Where is your brother?"

“He is with Lyna.Oh,and Edna,"the girl added before she left,“He found the spellbook,and Lyna got ahold of my pack..."

The woman rolled her eyes in exasperation.“You better go stop them before they turn Fallia into a toad - again."

Erica nodded and Edna turned to Justin.“You had a nasty bite there,eh?"

He nodded but said nothing.

“Tell me why Black Hounds were after you,boy."Edna ordered.

Justin fidgetted,looking at the room he was in.Small,probably in a cottage.There was a stove in the corner.A desk filled with scrolls and old books.A few smaller rooms branched off of it.

“Child,answer."The woman said once more.

Finally Justin sighed and told her the whole story - how he took the gem,the Hounds chasing him,the cat on the roof,the market,and the dogs back on his trail on the wall.When he finished,Edna looked at him thoughtfully.

It was several momemts before Justin noticed his leg didn't hurt at all.He had heard tell that Black Hound poison was strong enough to kill a horse in minutes,painful as fire.Yet there he was,alive and unharmed.

Pulling away his pant leg,Justin found a thick metal band wrapped around his calf,crossing with two other peices of metal.His leg was heavily bandaged,and the brace held the bandges tightly.It looked to be silver,though it glowed faintly blue.

“It's magic,isn't it?"Justin asked her.Edna nodded.

He sighed.“Thank you for helping me.But I need to be on my way."He tried to stand from the small cot he had been stretched out on,but was forced back down as dizziness overcame him.However the brace was enchanted,it was only numbing the pain.The poison was still there.

“Travelling?"Edna laughed.“No."He prepared to protest,but she added,“I think I can keep you out of trouble,besides.I teach young students here.You've already met Erica,and there's her brother Dallian,and little Jason,and of course their Guardians."

“What do they learn from you?"Justin asked,though he had a suspicion he knew.

“I teach them skillful magic.Things that are practical.Items to aid them.And of course standard education."Edna said smoothly.She had no obvious efforts of trying to convince him to stay.

Justin was about to decline when a tall boy of maybe 12 ran in at full speed,yelling,“Edna,come quick!Erica and Shasta were yelling at us for using their stuff,and then - she isn't moving,and Jason is - and-"

“Dallion,settle."Edna murmured.“What happened?"

“It's best if you see..."The boy said,looking at his shoes.

Edna sighed.“May as well come,Child,"she said to Justin,“To see what you'll have to put up with if you stay."

Justin tried to stand once more,but he leaned heavily on the wall.After a moment he steadied himself.Fighting through dizziness,he limped along after the boy and Edna.

Edna repeatedly Dallion to explain what happened,but that only seemed to excite him more,so she eventually gave up.

Outside the cottage it was near chaos.Erica was attempting to pick up berries and nuts and leaves that had been scattered everywhere.A great-horned owl was helping her,and a young wolf pup hopped around,causing more chaos.A leather-bound book of old,brittle paper lay on a rock beside a little boy of 7 or 8,who kept trying to grab peices of whatever Erica was grabbing,despite her protests.

“Jason,you're a disaster waiting to happen."Erica groaned,trying to pull back a handful of leaves.“Jason,No!"she yelled as he threw a pile of blue berries and draped the leaves on top.

He murmured a few words,then cut off as the wolf jumped through the pile.Erica squealed as the wolf disappeared.

Dallion's eyes widened.“What did you do?"

Jason quickly turned to the book and began flipping pages as fast as he could.

“QUIET."Edna said.She didn't raise her voice,but everyone heard it.

Silence.

Dallion broke the silence.“WHAT DID YOU DO TO LYNA YOU MISERABLE TOAD?"

Jason flinched.“The spell wasn't done!"he protested,“She ran into it.I didn't-"

“Quiet."Edna repeated.She strode over to the book,her green dress trailing behind her.She picked it up and read a few words aloud.Erica stood and instinctively handed Edna a pebble.

The tall woman took the rock.It wasn't big.She held it out and dropped it,breaking her words off.When the pebble reached the ground,it sprang into the wolf.

Justin gaped.“How did you-?"

“It is a simple trick."Edna responded,and with a glare at Jason,“And a good one to know."

The wolf scrambled to her paws and snarled,showing teeth at Jason,then ran to Dallion and rubbed against his legs.

“So?"Edna prompted.“Have you decided?"

Justin shrugged.“I suppose I'll stay...at least for a little while."

The woman nodded.

Erica huffed in indignation as she continued to place the objects into her bag.She was a short girl big was probably older than Justin by several years.Her eyes were a dull brown,her hair pale.She moved with the grace of one well taught in their years.

Her brother Dallion was completely the opposite.His hair was dark,his eyes glittering blue.His movements were that of one who was used to recklessness,but at the same time he looked capable of moving faster than a Black Hound.The little wolf,Lyna,sat beside him.Probably his Guardian.

The owl grabbed clumps of berries and arranged them in a pile for Erica to pick up.The neat girl with her wise eyes and pale hair seemed to fit perfectly with the ghostly white owl,strong and graceful with pale feathers.

And then their was Jason.He was little and had dark hair.If Justin didn't know better,he would have thought Dallion and Jason were brothers.His eyes were more grey than blue,but he,too,moved quickly and recklessly.But Jason almost seemed to blend into the background,unlike Dallion,who stood out in a crowd.

Justin decided he could adjust to living here.

Edna arranged the cot in a room that was obviously shared by Jason and Dallion.There were too rope hammocks hung from the ceiling.The cot fit against the back wall,and a small chest of drawers sat by the door.

Erica had her own room next door,and Edna on the other side of her.In the cellar Edna kept a small library of scrolls.The cottage was pleasant enough,Justin thought,if not crowded among the young students.

Lessons were to begin tomorrow.Justin was sure he could handle it.Besides,he wasn't staying long,just until his leg healed.And he would pick up a few skills while he was here.

Justin curled up on the cot,ready for sleep to envelope him.But sleep did not come.

His mind kept drifting to the fact that all three of the others had Guardians.He knew,of course,that not everyone found a Guardian.Most didn't.But he knew it set him apart.It also put him behind in training.

The cat.

He fidgetted as he remembered how the cat had seemed to haunt his thoughts when running from the Hounds.It's silly,he told himself,The cat is with the farmer,where he belongs.

Finally he sighed and fell into a restless,dreamless sleep.

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