Saving Selva

Shane watched his quarry from the shadows of the alley. While he'd been busy covertly gathering a loyal team to form the foundation of the Mordena this single individual had managed to infiltrate his process. Not only had she discovered who he had already recruited, but she had even warned many of his future targets of his intentions, and the losses stung. After weeks of his own efforts he had finally managed to track her here, to the slums of Baden's own capital.   She's just a kid. How old could she be, 14? And homeless, from the looks of it. The young Dracoling looked to be only slightly older than his son Jake, her clothes tattered and worn, her green scaled skin caked with dirt. She had managed a small fire, hidden behind a stack of metal crates, over which she attentively spun some sort of rodent on a stick. "Doesn't make her any less dangerous," he muttered under his breath. "She's taken from me for the last time."   And just what is the plan here? Are you really going to hurt a child? After everything you promised yourself? Shane scowled. "I'm going to eliminate the competition. Nothing more."   You're just angry she's outsmarted you. Imagine how useful those skills would be working for you instead. "She's set herself up as a rival. Competition." He tensed, preparing to make his deadly entrance. "She should have stayed out of my way."   What's the matter, Grim? Backing down from a challenge? That's a first. Shane paused, at war with himself. Why was he backing down from this one? For the last year he'd been hunting down the toughest targets he could find, using his training to break their spirits and reforge them into what and who he needed. And here he was, afraid to take on some street kid. "Fine. But remember, death would have been the quick, painless option."   He emerged menacingly from the shadows, an imposing figure on his kindest days, a terrifying reaper of death on his worst. The movement pulled her attention away from her dinner, causing her to grab the spit and wave it in his direction.   "Don't come any closer!" She dipped the spit into the fire, the fats of the carcass igniting, illuminating Shane. Her face lit up at the sight, her shoulders relaxing as she waved him over. "Oh, it's you! No one was brave enough to describe you to me but your 'Death's come for you and he's going to have a little fun first' glare is pretty unmistakable. I was wondering when you'd come find me."   Well, that was unexpected. Shane felt himself flounder but recovered quickly. She had been a thorn in his side for months, and that ended today. "Do you know why I'm here?"   She starved the flames licking her dinner with a practiced ease, replacing the spit over the fire before returning to sit on the ground. "Of course. Same as all the others. You're here to break me so you can build me into someone useful for your little band of mercenaries." She glanced up at him. "But I've got news for you: I'm already broken."   Shane's brows furrowed. This was not supposed to be the way this went. He stepped forward and glowered down, towering above her. "I'm very good at what I do. If you think you can prevent what's coming-"   She threw her head back, shaking with laughter. "I'm not trying to stop you!" She kept her eyes locked with his own, and Shane could see the sorrow she hid just below their surface. "I've got no quarrel with the Mordena, or whatever you decide to call yourselves. Frankly, I need your help." She shifted her weight to her knees, leaning closer. "So I'll let you do whatever you intend to do with me, if you make me a promise."   "I hold all the power here." Except I don't think you do. Not this time.   She graced him with a sad smile. "No, not all of it." Her shoulders slumped as she looked away, into the fire. "You may have maneuvered yourself so you can take what you want from me, but only I have the power to give it to you freely."   She's got a point. And she already seems to trust you. Shane shifted his weight nervously. This was not how he was used to these conversations going. "And what do you expect in return?"   She looked back up at him, and this time tears streamed openly down her face. "Please... Promise me you won't leave me broken. I... I don't want to be broken anymore..."   Shane felt his resolve shatter. Yet again he faced that hurt reflection of himself from all those years ago. You've met your match, Grim. There's no way you'll ever hurt her now.   He dropped to his haunches, resting his arms on his knees, and studied her. She looked back at him, anticipation and fear in her eyes. She's not afraid of you, she's afraid you'll reject her, too. The realization hit him hard. Jake's trust in him was one thing, but nobody had ever sought him out, knowing from the beginning what he was capable of and yet trusting in him anyway.   Shane reached out and grasped her chin, holding her gaze on his own as he ran his thumb across her tear soaked cheek. "I promise."   She stilled, and Shane watched her fear dissolve into something else, something... at peace. A moment later she pulled herself from his grasp, brushing the dirt from her legs as she stood up. "Well, then our goals align." She doused the fire, kicking the dirt over the embers, her meticulously prepared roasted rodent forgotten. She looked down at Shane, confidence in her voice. "Go on! Play your little mind games. Just don't treat me like I'm stupid."   Shane stood, towering over her childish frame, mustering all the intimidation he could manage. He smirked as she sank backwards, eyes wide. That's better. She wasn't going to get away that easily. "You seem to have done your research about me, but how do I know I can trust you?"   He watched as her newfound confidence fractured, her shoulders slumping as she turned her attention to the ground. "You don't, I guess," he heard her mumble before she turned her pleading gaze towards him. "Please let me join you! I have a lot to offer! People just ignore us street kids, so I hear lots of things and nobody thinks anything of it." Her face held desperation. "And everything I learned, I'd make sure you knew, too. I want to help. I need your help. Just..." Shane heard her choke back a sob. "Tell me what I need to do."   Clever girl. Shane couldn't help but be impressed at her reasoning. Definitely a useful asset to the Mordena, assuming he could rely upon her word. She's already yours. But he had to be certain. "A test, then. To see if your words are genuine." But what could he use?   Jake's alchemy? He fished the bottle out of his pocket, holding it towards her. "Drink this."   She plucked it from his hands, eying the bottle. "What is it? Some sort of truth serum?"   He grinned threateningly, eyes dark. "Sleeping potion." His son had taken up alchemy classes, busily experimenting on various sleep aids in an effort to help his father. Shane protested at being the subject of Jake's youthful experimentation, but even he had to admit the latest batch had been particularly effective. This was the last bottle, and he wasn't looking forward to the nightmares tonight reliving his past vengeances, or the potential side effects of whatever the next batch would bring, but it was for a good cause. If the kid meant what she said, he'd do everything in his limited but expanding power to get her the help she needed. He'd figure out how to indoctrinate a damn therapist into the Mordena if he had to.   But no sense giving away those plans just yet. Instead he fixed her with a scowl. "You think you're willing to join the Mordena? Prove it. You rightfully pointed out that you still hold a great deal of power in this interaction. Surrender that power to me. Drink the potion." That little speech didn't sound half bad. Shane filed it away for later, internally preening.   She drank the entire concoction in a single swig, much to Shane's surprise. Replacing the stopper she handed the bottle back to him, her movements already sluggish. "So, Boss, when do we leave?"   He deftly caught her as her legs gave way. Well, if that doesn't appease your reservations about her, nothing will. He cradled her in his arms, watching a contented smile form across her face as she drifted to sleep. "What's your name, kid?"   "Selva." Her voice was far away. "Thank you for saving me."   You don't always need to be a monster to keep the other monsters at bay.   Shane didn't answer, his concentration wholly consumed by his present task, opening his senses to a detailed awareness of himself and the trusting child now sleeping in his arms. With the ease of a Void Mage accustomed to flinging entire spacecraft across the galaxy he carried them both beyond the Veil, bending and twisting reality itself around them until the alley was empty and silent once more.


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