Chapter One*

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Travis was an orphan. He lived in the orphanage in Mercy Square. It was a big old stone building in the center of the city. It was protected by the Knights Hall, a larger fortress-like structure. The Knights Hall was built hundreds of years ago during the Unbalancing. That was a long ago time of war. There had been relative peace for fifty years after, but then around the fifty year mark, bloodshed broke loose.

Even though he was only a boy of ten, Travis considered himself a man. On his tenth birthday, Travis declared, "From here on, I am a man." The other boys in the orphanage launched themselves on him and began to pummel him senseless, as if trying to disprove this point.

The boys in the old dusty building had little in the way of entertainment. And some of the older ones- 16, 18, were looking like they might never become adopted. The Orphanage Keepers, Hilde & Narn, had practically taken these older two on board as additional housekeepers. It wasn't adoption, but at least it was something.

That morning that Travis declared himself a man was the exact morning of his tenth birthday, and though he was besieged by bruises for the remainder of the day, he tried to act as much like a man as possible.

His best friend Bill had asked him, "Why are you standing so strangely?"

Bill pointed to Travis's arms which were perched at his hip.

"This is how men stand," Travis said.

Bill laughed in his face.

"Men don't stand a certain way."

"Yes they do," Travis said. "They stand menacingly."

Travis leaned toward Bill with a sour expression, but Bill laughed him off. Travis couldn't intimidate Bill if he tried. They had known each other for too long. They had grown up together at the orphanage. They'd always been an inseparable duo, known for causing mischief.

Hilde was shouting at Narn to set the table. Hilde was desperately trying to whip together a meal to feed all twelve of the orphans. He always managed somehow, though sometimes Travis felt as though his soup tasted a little like sand.

"Sit down immediately," Hilde shouted at Travis.

Travis complied. Even he, the birthday boy, was not free from Hilde's militaristic regimen. According to Hilde's father, Hilde should have been a great explorer, not an Orphanage Keeper. And Hilde's ill-fit for this position showed in every scornful facet of his demeanor.

The Orphanage Keepers would tell the other little children interesting snippets about where they came from, little factoids of advice to help guide the poor lads. But Hilde would skip over Travis altogether. Travis always wondered what the big secret was. They made it clear they thought he would never be adopted, like he was the black sheep, but when he looked at himself in Hilde's pocket mirror (which he'd pocketed for himself one evening), Travis never thought there was anything was particularly bad looking about his own appearance.

"I look manly," Travis had said, earlier that morning, gazing at himself in the mirror. "Why wouldn't people the world over want to adopt this face?"

"You're a nut," Bill said.

"No I'm not," Travis said. "I just like myself."

"That's insane," Bill said. "You can't like yourself. You have to like someone else."

"Well, I don't like you, if that's what you mean," Travis said.

Bill looked hurt.

"I just meant, like yourself a normal amount," Bill said.

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