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Author's Chapter Notes:
Ma’Quiver stood near the docks, watching a new ship arrive, shielding his eyes against the late afternoon sun’s glare.

One of the few ships to drop by in the week or so they had stayed on the Isle of Castaways. While he still felt a measure of restlessness after being stalled in Sarna for so long, he was also surprised at how relaxed he felt at times here. Going by his friends’ equally relaxed posture, he was increasingly certain there was just something about the island’s easygoing atmosphere that simply rubbed off on people the longer they stayed.

He was beginning to wonder if they were planning to leave any time soon, or if it might be time to settle his affairs with the Maximum crew and sign on with another outfit.

Not that he hadn’t enjoyed himself, he was just afraid of staying anyplace too long anymore when there were still so many places to search. Shades clearly relished any chance to run along the beach, Max’s swordsmanship was coming along well, and Justin seemed to have learned the pitfalls of drinking with old pirates. And just like on the ship, they took to using their old EMP-wrecked guns from St Lucy to practice disarms and weapon retention. Having marked them with colored electrical tape from the supply room for safety. Justin, especially, demonstrated a natural knack for both.

Everyone enjoyed their often musical training and sparring sessions down by the beach, and he was even considering trying his hand at surfing with Dagmar and Kalika.

Yet as he watched the crew of this new ship, Danjo, disembark, he spotted something that completely rephrased the question for him. Or rather, someone.

Medium height, medium build, with almost platinum-blond hair, parted and swept to both sides, he looked much as Ma’Quiver remembered him. Older, naturally, but with that same cocky, smugly self-assured expression only served to close the gap of five years. Closing the gap enough to make him recoil in spite of himself for a moment.

Clyde Voidt, Lazlo’s first apprentice…

…Dominik Ma’Quiver lost his parents at the age of seven, in a terrible accident. That he recalled precious little of, let alone how he managed to survive, though later he would begin to formulate his own bitter theories. Most of them based on how he came to be Lazlo’s second apprentice in the first place.

Short for even his age, and scrawny, with a shaggy mop of black hair, and wary eyes that looked around as if constantly expecting trouble in all the new places his master took him in his travels since that day.

That day in the town of Cordova, he was simply walking down the street, delivering news bulletins, as he had been doing for nearly a year to help support the orphanage, when he was about to get hit by an out-of-control truck. He blacked out after that, but when he came to, he found he was once again mysteriously unharmed, and a strange man named Lazlo was lobbying to adopt him. Told him that he possessed a rare gift, which he had used reflexively to escape death or serious injury, and he could teach him how to use it to its full potential if he would become his pupil.

So far, though, he had yet to succeed in using it deliberately, but Master Lazlo assured him that he would get the hang of it in time. Thus far, even for a novice like himself, Shanshou-kan training was very challenging, but even in the few weeks he had been practicing, he had come to find a certain satisfaction in it, much more so than any of the chores the orphanage asked of him to help earn his keep there. There was only one thing to disrupt the peace and tranquility of his studies.

From the moment Lazlo came to pick him up from the orphanage, he was already there, staring down his nose at him. Having already trained under his master’s tutelage for five years, the first thing out of his mouth a jab about
taking in strays. In the weeks since, Clyde had made good on that quip, taking every opportunity he could get away with to make Ma’Quiver feel unwelcome.

As Ma’Quiver stood on the bustling street of the seaport on Adair Island, he caught sight of Clyde strolling down the way, spotted the telltale “flicker” he had already learned to detect when they practiced time-shifting techniques. At first he wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, though something still bothered him. It was seeing Clyde ambling over toward him with an unfamiliar wallet that made the pieces fit.

“Score!” Clyde gloated, popping it open, taking a look inside. “Like taking candy from a baby!”

Then back up, asking, “So, you finally ready to start making yourself useful, scrub?” With that same condescending manner he always addressed him with. “There’s this place I found, but I need a lookout. If you pull it off, I’ll even give you some money. If you do a good job.”

“But why?” Ma’Quiver stammered. Though he was becoming increasingly certain Clyde was spending more money than he was making, he was still taken aback to see him stealing outright. “We have plenty right now…”

“You mean that chump-change Master Lazlo has us making doing the work of peons?” Clyde sneered. “If I have the power, why shouldn’t I use it?”

“Just because you can?…” Ma’Quiver balled his hands into fists. While Lazlo let them keep most of the money they earned, he understood it wasn’t his fault kids like themselves couldn’t work jobs that paid as much as an adult. “Master Lazlo trusted you…”

“And he’s gonna
keep on trusting me, if you know what’s good for you!” Clyde snatched him up by the front of his shirt before he could try to run, shoving him up against the fence behind him. “If you tell Lazlo anything—”

“Tell me anything about what?”

A strong, solid hand gripped Clyde’s shoulder, dragging him back as he abruptly let go of Ma’Quiver. Middle aged, with fading brown hair and a handlebar moustache, Lazlo typically held a kind, fatherly aura about him. Right now, though, he was the very face of stern.

“Well, um…” For once, Clyde was at a loss for words.

“I saw what you did, Clyde,” Lazlo informed him, “and I’m very disappointed in you. I didn’t want to believe my first apprentice was a thief, but it seems turning a blind eye was a mistake. Not only are you using the powers I taught you to steal from hapless bystanders, but now you’re trying to make your brother an accomplice, as well?”

“He’s not my brother! And if we didn’t have this dead-weight with us, we wouldn’t be so strapped for cash!”

“Do not speak that way of your brother,” Lazlo told him. “You were once a novice yourself, don’t forget. As your teacher, you are both like sons to me. And I don’t recall teaching any son of mine to be a thief.”

“Well if Shanshou-kan’s so great, why do we have to go around doing lame chores for hand-outs?” To this day, Ma’Quiver suspected Clyde was chafing under Lazlo’s itinerant lifestyle, even before he came along, and it looked as if he was finally going to have it out in the open. “Why don’t we actually
use our power to take what we want?”

“Because we are as responsible for our own actions as anybody else. It is our actions that decide the worth of Shanshou-kan,” Lazlo sighed. “So how fast would you have us wear out our welcome in this place?”

“But, if no one knows…”

“There’s no such thing as impunity, Clyde,” Lazlo informed him. “I thought I taught you better than this. Tell me, what would you do if the authorities all came after you?”

Clyde had no response for that.

“I don’t want you to have to live as everyone’s enemy.” Lazlo placed his hand on Clyde’s shoulder, gently this time. “That’s no life any father would wish on his son.”

“Then maybe I shouldn’t be your ‘son’ anymore,” Clyde scowled.

“I would think carefully about how you plan to take care of yourself at your age. Let alone if you decide to become a criminal,” Lazlo cautioned him. “When you grow up, you can live as you choose, but I won’t tolerate stealing from any of my pupils.”

“But we could be rich…”

“We already
are rich,” Lazlo told him, “more than you know. It has been generations since the since the last time a master of Shanshou-kan was blessed with two apprentices. Our art is rare enough— why would you seek to drive it into extinction by marking a Dark Art out of it? Such actions will only drive it into deeper obscurity.”

“I still think that’s what we’re already doing…” But Clyde handed over the wallet anyway.

“Now, it’s almost time for training,” Lazlo told them. “I have a little errand to attend to. When I get back, I expect to see both of you working together…”

…On the surface, that was likely what Master Lazlo found when he got back, but beneath the surface, the whole training session consisted of Clyde using him as a punching bag. Frequently muttering, I have no brother.

Of course, before going back to the inn to face whatever Clyde could get away with doing to him in the name of training, he followed Lazlo for the first leg of his errands. Sure enough, his master had marked Clyde’s mark, and a short while later caught up with him, telling him he had dropped his wallet. The man’s reaction shifting from confusion, as he checked his pocket, to suspicion as he took it back, to sheepish relief as he sifted through its contents and saw it was all there, thanking Lazlo profusely. After which, Ma’Quiver went back to the inn, having resolved to learn even from Clyde’s abuse, to become strong enough to stand up to him.

So that the next time I see somebody getting robbed, I can use my powers to stop it.

Though he never heard Clyde raise the issue with Lazlo again, he did become increasingly sullen, and one day simply disappeared. Try as they might, Clyde made good on his threat to leave, and they never saw him again. As time went by, Lazlo focused more and more on training his one remaining apprentice, giving the impression of having given up on Clyde. But every now and then, Ma’Quiver would catch a distant, almost nostalgic, look on his master’s face that seemed to suggest otherwise.

For his own part, Ma’Quiver had hoped Clyde would straighten out, but what he saw on the dock was hardly encouraging. Starting with the ship’s name, Danjo, which he had heard in passing, connected to an outlaw who, by all accounts, used Shanshou-kan shamelessly in every fight. Seeing Clyde Voidt, of all people, step off with this posse only served to confirm what he had suspected for a long time.

Clyde’s companions didn’t exactly inspire confidence, either.

Behind him strode two men, one with a mop of dark brown hair, the other with short, curly black hair, whose swagger and overall demeanor reminded him of both the bullies from his childhood orphanage, as well as the Nikopol thugs of more recent acquaintance.

The last member of the group looked the most out of place in this crowd, even walking by Clyde’s side. Shorter than the others, and lithe, with curls of spun gold and a long braid swaying half-way down her back, she seemed just a tad too regal for such lowlife company. Even her clothes, disheveled from travel as they were, still looked a cut above any of their gear.

Seeing as how none of them had noticed him yet, Ma’Quiver ducked behind a storage shed and continued to observe them as they disembarked.

“This place…” the young woman remarked, looking around the seaport with thinly-veiled disdain. “Is there even a decent inn around here? A hotel would obviously be too much to ask for.”

“Cool your heels,” said one of the two in back, “I’m just lookin’ for some real food.”

“And somewhere to stretch my legs,” said the other.

“Brad, Graham, look no further,” Clyde told them, his tone still just as cocky and sublimely self-assured as Ma’Quiver remembered. “It may not look like much, but this ghetto seaport should suit our needs nicely. The locals shouldn’t be too much trouble, either.”

Two local men came over to greet them.

“I’m not spending another night on that ship, Danjo,” the woman told him, completely ignoring their welcome.

“Heh,” laughed the one called Brad, “maybe this dump has other accommodations!”

“Maybe even a little privacy, if nothing else,” snorted the one called Graham, swiping his hair out of his eyes.

“You said it!” Clyde nodded with a sly grin.

The two men at the dock took a couple steps toward them, then faltered, turning to look at each other for a moment while these newcomers continued to gab, giving both of them not even a backward glance, before they sighed, shrugged and turned back to their own business.

By now, they were out of earshot, but as they walked away, Ma’Quiver watched the young woman elbow Graham, turn up her nose at Clyde, then turn and stomp away, heading toward the beach, while the others headed toward the main town.

Ma’Quiver lingered until they were out of sight, then headed toward the main docks, having decided that what he had seen looked like trouble in the making, that perhaps things might be a little quieter around here without him.