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Hard Truths

By Starsong Lightwing

The seven-year-old skipped along through the grass, ignoring her parents calling for her not to stray so far. She giggled with childish happiness as a field jibbril scrabbled away as she stepped too close. Immediately she took off after it, hoping for a glimpse of its nest. It shot into the long grass and she plunged in after it, determined not to let it get away. "Milantha!" Her mother called sharply. "Come out of that, right now!" The little blond girl sighed and sulked as she turned to go back. A movement off to one side caught her eye, and she stopped to look at it, in spite of her mothers continued calls.

Her blue eyes widened in fear as a lithe, shimmering blue body reared up out of the grass. Somehow, she knew what was going to happen and she screamed, again and again. Somewhere in a detached corner of her mind she knew this had happened before, that it should have struck by now. Glittering black eyes stared out of the triangular head. The serpent just watched her, the two of them frozen in time. The grass around her rippled in the wind, rocking like the trained snakes she'd seen on the holo-v. Then the grass was gone and shimmering blue scales and onyx eyes surrounded her. She screamed even louder, her eyes instinctively seeking out her mom and dad. They could offer no help, surrounded also by the writhing snakes. The slender forms slid between and through and over one another, circling the older ducks menacingly. Milantha's parents moved together, clinging to each other as their eyes widened in horror. Then her mother jerked, and Milantha's voice joined her father's as they cried out together in anguish.

Even over their voices and the horrible, horrible hissing of the snakes, she heard the second gunshot echo as she watched her father fall, slumped over the body of his wife. Milantha cried helplessly as the snake in front of her finally bared his fangs, and struck at her bare ankle...

Milantha jerked awake and choked back a cry, stuffing her fist in her mouth and biting down, willing herself to silence. She sobbed in the darkness for a moment, not even trying to exert more control than it took to keep her fear from being heard by her mentor, across the hall. She curled up, hugging her pillow tight to her as she stared in the dark, knowing she would not sleep again this night, or, most likely, the next. She sighed and closed her eyes tight, cursing Shendar and the Enforcers and everything else she could think of.

When she got out of bed that morning, she pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, pulling her hair back into a careless ponytail. Her appearance would be noticed, she knew, and probably commented on, but she couldn't make herself care.

She also couldn't find it in herself to be surprised when Iliana didn't say a word, or even give her an extra glance. Milantha went about her morning chores mechanically, her mind drifting a thousand miles away, doing it's best not to return to the still-battered body that was heartsick for any number of reasons.

The dreams didn't bother her all that much. It wouldn't be quite accurate to say she'd gotten used to them, over the years, but she had learned not to dwell on them beyond the nauseating wave of fear and revulsion she always felt when she woke up. The death of her parents was a recent addition, but again, it was accepted and dealt with as all phantoms should be--banished with the first light of day. No, the nightmares were frightening, but familiar. A known danger, a concoction of her own fantasy and fear.

Tarrin had been worried at her near-suicide, afraid that she might try it again. He'd had her closely watched while she was in the infirmary, recovering from severely bruised ribs and a concussion, as well the poison she'd swallowed. He needn't have worried, not on that account at least. She was no stranger to pain, after the fire that had flooded her veins that day eleven years ago, leaving her in an agony that few survived. The brush with death and worse had shaken her, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. Life on the streets was harsh, and it was not the first such threat she'd faced. She'd always known she'd die before letting anyone touch her that way with their hot breath and filthy hands. No man could ever have that kind of power over her while she lived. It was the ultimate violation of who she was and she would not stand for it.

With a sigh she sat down with the book she was currently reading. Iliana had recommended it, and Milantha had accepted it somewhat reluctantly, her mentor's taste being considerably different from her own. It had turned out to be surprisingly interesting. It was the journal of a young man named Kialos, who had joined the Brotherhood rather unwillingly when his town had been sacked and burned, in the older days of the organization.

Today, though, she stared at the page without seeing it, too mired in her own moral conflicts to worry about Kialos'. Finally she stood up and sighed. Iliana was standing across from her. Milantha hadn't seen her approach, but that was hardly unusual. The older woman moved with a silence that Milantha knew would take her years to master.

"I'm not feeling well," she said, "Is it all right if I just take the day off?" The request sounded absurd to her ears, but Iliana's expression didn't change.

"All right. I believe you have a lot to think about, but before you go, there is something I must add to that list."

Milantha sighed and sat back down. "What is it?"

Iliana was silent for a moment. "There are some hard truths that you must come to understand about our life here, child." Milantha paled slightly, feeling a little sick.

"Go on."

"We are not glorious warriors for truth and justice, above and beyond the rules of corrupt society. In the past, the Brotherhood as a whole has been on the side of righteousness only when it serves our own purposes to be there. We are outside the bounds of traditional society, not bound by their laws," she paused. "Or their values. Here, the only law is the Brotherhood Law. You've read it, child, and those laws govern our behavior only toward each other. There are killers in this organization, Milantha, you know that. Shendar's blood was not the first shed by my blade, nor am I idealistic enough to believe it was the last." Again, she paused, as if giving her student time to understand what she'd just been told. Milantha's gaze was riveted to the edge of the table in front of her. She didn't look up at all. Iliana continued, her voice smooth, even, emotionless. "Every member's methods are his own to employ, and as long as he stays within the bounds of the Law, it is not in our power to judge him. Who he chooses to kill is not our concern, as long as it is not one of our own. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you, Milantha?"

"Yes," she said quietly.

"There is more. Most members do not enjoy killing, it simply does not fit with the nature of those who find their homes here, and it is certainly not looked well upon. But, most find it to be necessary at some point in their careers. It is a fact of the life we've chosen to lead. Some are luckier than others, and are able to avoid it, but there may be a time when you will have to choose between killing and being killed or captured."

"I know," Milantha said in a small voice.

"Then I will tell you something you may not know. This will, perhaps, be hardest of all for you to hear, but you must before your training goes any farther. Look at me, child." Milantha reluctantly raised her eyes to her mentor's. Iliana's measured voice turned her blood cold. "You will not be able to avoid the taking of life if you choose to replace me."

"What do you mean?" Milantha forced herself to ask hollowly.

"I mean, my student, that there is great responsibility that comes with this job. I am the guardian of tradition and the Law. There must be nothing more sacred to me than this, not even life. The Law is all that separates Brotherhood members from common street thugs. We are a nation always at war, Milantha, and treason will be our destruction if it is not punished. That is why no one is allowed to leave us. And there comes a time when death is the only punishment that will suffice. I must be able to demand that penalty if the law requires it, and I will not demand a life I am not willing to take myself." Her voice softened just slightly enough to be noticeable to her student, though few others would have heard it. "I have served for over twenty years, and it has never been easy. I vow before you now, if the day ever comes when it is, I will step down. One who values a life does not demand its surrender easily, and is more given to mercy, motivated to think of an alternative."

Milantha couldn't think of anything to say. Iliana held her gaze a moment longer, then turned away, giving her leave to go. The sixteen-year-old stood and went back to her room across the hall, mired even more deeply in dark thoughts.

The news of Shendar's death at her teacher's hands had completely failed to elicit any emotion from her. That indifference was frightening. That she could so casually dismiss the death of one whom had sheltered and taught her. And used me, and kidnapped me, and beat me... His punishment had been demanded by Law. Harming another member was punishable. Leaving was far worse. And there was no question, he had intended to leave for good. But in spite of all he had done...the man was dead. Dead. She should at least feel something. Anger, pity, remorse--anything but pleasure would be better than this. What kind of monster am I already becoming, that I'm not even sorry? For an instant she was back in the infirmary again, Shockwave watching her anxiously as he told her what had happened.

"I'm--I'm not sorry he's dead," she said quietly. "Does that make me a horrible person?"

"No!" Shockwave looked startled. "No, Lanny, you're not horrible."

Aren't I, Sparky? , she thought gloomily. Or will you just not tell me so? She sighed and glanced up at a knock on her door.

"Come in."

"Lantha?" Estelle opened the door and walked in. Milantha realized abruptly that she was sitting in the middle of her still-unmade bed. She stood and began to rectify the situation.

"Hi Stelle."

"Are you all right? Iliana told me that you weren't feeling well."

"I'll be fine. I just...have a lot to think over."

"Care to share?" Estelle asked gently.

"Are you going to take no for an answer?" Milantha asked tiredly.

"Probably not. Are you sure you're all right, dear, you look as if you haven't slept at all."

"I haven't," she sighed, sitting back down on her now-made bed and leaning back. "Have a seat."

Estelle leaned against the wall. Milantha made a mental note to discuss what exactly qualified as 'having a seat' at some point in the future when she was in the mood to make an issue out of something. "I don't suppose you'd believe that I lied and I just didn't feel like working today."

"You'll have to do better than that, I'm afraid, I know how much you enjoy what you do, and I know you'd never lie to Iliana. More than that, you'd never lie convincingly enough for her to believe you."

"I'll have to work on that," Milantha lay back and stared at the ceiling.

It was Estelle's turn to sigh. "I almost wish you didn't have to learn to lie."

The younger woman smiled sadly. "I'm afraid that's not the worst thing I'll have to learn. I don't much like it either but--it's rather a necessity. Among...other things."

Estelle stared at some point on the wall across from her. "I know it is...but I still don't like having to do it. Have you ever thought about what we do for a living? Really thought about it? We steal. Some of us kill. I haven't, but I've almost had to, and I know others have. And for what, Lantha? Why?"

Milantha looked pained, glaring at the ceiling. "Because right now the world out there isn't any less dangerous. I'd be doing the same thing without the Brotherhood, and I'd be a lot less safe and no where near as happy." She paused, wondering if she dared share her worries with her friend.

Estelle sighed again. "As would I, I suppose. But still...I can see you have something else on your mind. What are you thinking about?"

Might as well go ahead and say it... "Estelle--if I--if I had to kill someone, would you--think less of me?

Estelle successfully kept from looking shocked, though Milantha had no doubt the question had done just that. The Raptrin thought for a moment. "Well...Lantha...that wasn't really a question I was quite prepared for... I think, honestly, my dear, it would depend on the situation. If you killed just to kill, I would, because I can never see you doing that. But if you did it to save yourself or someone else...I don't think I would. Sometimes you have to take a life to save a life."

Milantha asked quietly, "If it was a traitor then? Someone who broke the Brotherhood Law?"

Estelle wonders where this question is going. "If he was going to the Enforcers with information on us...then I'd want him taken care of. But...just because someone leaves the Brotherhood doesn't mean he's all bad."

Milantha considered her words. She raised her eyes to the ceiling again. "Iliana was talking to me..."

"About what?" Estelle inquired. Milantha repeated her master's words.

Estelle considered what she'd heard. "So...when you become Loremaster...you may become...executioner?"

"It's not required," Milantha answered softly. "There's nothing in the Law that says I have to do that. But...if I'm the one who says they have to die, I don't think I can ask someone else to do it for me."

Estelle straightened and paced to the other side of the room. "I don't think you could, either, Lantha. If you make a decision, you must carry it out yourself. No matter what it costs." She stared at the floor beneath her feet, and, after a moment, swallowed hard. "Milantha...if...Ernest...ever came back...would the Law dictate...death?" Estelle cringed, preparing herself for the worst.

Milantha's eyes widened. "Oh Estelle, I'm sorry, I didn't even think about that!"

"I know," Estelle said in an even tone. "I just happened to. I understand that he did wrong, Milantha. He was a traitor." She turned away. "Even if he is my brother."

Milantha flushed. There, you've gone and done it again. "Well--I'm sorry Estelle, but...yeah, he probably would have to die. He left the Brotherhood, and he helped Dragaunus. There's no way he'd get off with less...I'm sorry..." I'm so sorry Estelle, I can't believe I was so insensitive. And selfish...I didn't even think of how she'd feel, being asked a question like that...

Estelle said calmly, "Don't be. He made his own decisions. He chose to be a traitor. He will have to live with the consequences." Or die with them, Milantha couldn't help thinking, but she said nothing of the sort. She'd said enough already.

She cleared her throat nervously. "I think I need some fresh air," she mumbled, pulling a white cap and some sunglasses out of her drawer. "Nobody'll notice me. Nobody over the age of twenty, anyway."

"Are you sure you--"

"I'm sure, and I'll be fine." Milantha's answer was a little sharper than she had intended. Estelle frowned but she didn't say anything as the younger woman headed down the hall toward the stairs.

Milantha kept to the back streets, moving cautiously until she was several blocks from the base, then stepping out into the streets like any other ordinary teenager. She wore the hat, but stuck the sunglasses in her pocket, as the sky above her was the stormy gray that heralded the start of the warm season storms. The thick clouds billowed above her, but she didn't pay much attention to them, inhaling the wind that swirled around her. It was smelled heavily of rain, but the memories that came with the scent concerned her more than the coming weather. She walked slowly through the streets, staring around her, but seeing instead the neighborhood where she'd grown up, the house she'd lived in. The children she'd played with before the bite had put her in the hospital.

None of it had prepared her for what she was facing now. She sighed. Or had it? Had it prepared her to make the choice to walk away, wash her hands of everything she was becoming? Could she even still do that? Did she really want to? All the plans she'd made before the war swirled in her mind, mixing with her questions, adding to them. So many things she wouldn't be able to do. So many new possibilities, but at what cost? Would she give up her soul just to have a family again?

We are a nation always at war...

Somehow that thought comforted her. She entertained the idea as she walked down the street, through one of the markets. The Brotherhood had its own economy, its own government, its own laws and codes, its own culture. And all the problems of normal society to go along with it, she thought sourly. The politicking, the bias, the crime--crime in a society of criminals. There's poetic justice in there somewhere. Milantha veered away into a side street; she was getting painfully close to police headquarters. She continued to wander idly. So what does that make me and Iliana, then? Are we the police? Judge, jury, and executioner? No, I know that's not right...She sighed and changed direction again, heading for somewhere that she hoped would bring her some comfort. The wind picked up, and her long ponytail flapped around her. She ignored it. Iliana doesn't make the decisions, that's the leader and the council's job--or it was, anyway...But people respect her judgement...will they even trust mine, when the time comes? Can I stand against everyone, if I have to? Do I even want to try...demanding the life of someone else...deciding that they should die...and how do you face someone even if they're released? Knowing that they know that you wanted them dead...And what's everyone going to think of me? She thought forlornly of Shockwave. He was such a sweetheart, he'd never hurt a soul. Unless it was on her behalf, she amended with a slight smile. He was so full of surprises sometimes. He'd looked like he was really ready to take on that creep that had insulted her a few days ago, despite the fact that the guy was twice his weight. Would you defend a killer like that, Sparky? If I had to...if I did...could you still care for someone like that? And Estelle...I know you've accepted what he's done, but I know it still hurts you, and if I had to be the one that killed him, your brother...

There wasn't any resolution for it, no matter how she looked at it. When it came down to the wire, every argument she put forth was just a rationalization. Killing was wrong. But if she accepted that, was stealing any different? Life wasn't easy for anyone after war, was she just being a coward to give up and sell her soul for steady bread and a family to replace the one she'd lost? Or was she refusing to be part of the Enforcer's tyranny, refusing to be their victim any longer?

In the end, did the reasons really matter?

She stared moodily at the pond in front of her. Shockwave'd first taught her to pass a hockey puck on this little lake. She'd first kissed him here. Now the ice was broken, melting, and water rippled between the remaining sheets, tiny waves breaking against the edges. It made the surface look choppy and unruly. So different from that night. Just as she was, now. Milantha found the symbolism disturbing. It annoyed her, to see her thoughts reflected in her surroundings like that. She'd come here for comfort, for the love of DuCaine.

"Hi." Milantha jumped and turned quickly. Shockwave gave her an uncertain, shy smile, the one she always got when he either thought she was mad at him, or was afraid she might be. "I thought you might come here."

Milantha couldn't think of anything to say. Shockwave stepped forward tentatively. "Estelle told me you seemed kinda upset. She thought you might want to talk. I mean, not that I wouldn't have come anyway, if you were upset--I mean, if I'd known..." He trailed off, looking guilty. "I don't want you to be sad, Lanny..." he finished lamely.

Milantha sighed, and sat down on the bank, not really caring if she got dirty. "I'm not sad, exactly. I'm just confused, I guess." Shockwave sat down next to her.

"Can I help?" he asked hopefully. Milantha shook her head, staring at the water.

"It's not anything, really, it doesn't matter. Estelle didn't need to bother you. I'll be fine, Shockwave." She stared at the pond a moment longer, but sensed something in his silence that made her look up at him. He was watching her with a dismayed expression. "What?" she demanded.

"You're lying to me," he said unhappily.

"What makes you say that?" Milantha asked tiredly, staring back at the water again.

"You only call me Shockwave when you're really happy, or really upset. I can tell you aren't happy. It's so bad you can't even tell me about it?" The hurt in his voice made her feel guilty, but she couldn't make herself say it again. Not to him, especially.

He reached for her carefully, and Milantha had to make a conscious effort not to flinch at his touch. She'd mostly gotten over that, but sometimes she still had to think about it. She was so used to turning and screaming at anyone that laid a hand on her that it had become almost a reflex. He hugged her gently, as if he were afraid she would break, and Milantha almost smiled as she remembered what had happened last time he'd tried it. She'd just been cleared to leave the infirmary when he'd hugged her enthusiastically, and was rewarded by a yelp of pain, and a lecture from Tarrin to be more careful. Milantha had hidden her affectionate amusement at the guilty look on his face. He'd treated her like glass ever since.

Milantha suddenly felt incredibly lonely. She moved close and leaned back against him, and told him everything.

Shockwave seemed to think about it for a moment. "Lanny, he was going to kill you. I'm not sorry that he's dead either, he was dangerous. What would you rather have had happened? If he'd gotten away he might have tried again, and you said yourself that what he did was against the Law. I'm sorry it has to be you, if it makes you unhappy, but you'd just be doing your job, and protecting all of us. And I know you wouldn't hurt anybody that didn't deserve it," he declared. He set his chin on her shoulder. "So don't be sad anymore, 'kay Lanny?"

Milantha couldn't help but smile at the plea, and Shockwave grinned with relief.

"Why do you put up with me?" she asked with a sigh, snuggling closer.

"Because you let me," he said cheerfully.

"You're impossible."

"I can change."

"Don't you dare."

The moment was abruptly ruined as a large raindrop splashed onto his beak, quickly followed by another, and a third. In the time it took them to stand up, the sky had opened and commenced to dump the first big storm of the season on them. They were both soaked by the time they got back to the Lair.

Milantha tried to make Shockwave stay at his own room and change before he caught a cold, but he insisted on escorting her back to her quarters. Milantha allowed it with a minimum of protest, telling herself that the longer he stood there arguing, the longer they were both going to be wet. After what had happened, she'd have been surprised if he'd ever let her walk down by herself again.

"Come back when you get dried off," Milantha asked impulsively. "I'd really rather not be by myself for a while."

He smiled and kissed the top of her wet head. "Okay. I'll be back."

"Thanks."

*****

"Where'd it come from?"

"I don't know." Milantha ran her hand across the smooth keys. "I guess--it must have been Iliana, she's the only one that knows I can play." She sat down on the bench in front of the keyboard stand, and Shockwave slid onto it next to her.

"Why?" he wanted to know.

"I don't know that either," Milantha answered, positioning her hands on the keys almost automatically. I haven't done this in so long...I'm not even sure I still remember how...She plucked out a few notes.

"How come you never told me you played piano?" Shockwave asked, watching her hands move up the scale.

"It never came up," Milantha said simply. "It was something I could do sitting down, and I always loved music, so Daddy taught me to play. It's been a while, though." Even as she spoke, she was picking out a familiar old tune. A smile touched her face, and she hummed along softly with the notes as she discovered she could still find them with relative ease. She warmed to the sound, and her hands moved more quickly, the music flowing more easily. Shockwave smiled as he watched her. Milantha was aware of his presence, but her attention was on the notes and the melody. She wasn't even fully aware of when she started singing with it; then suddenly she was finishing the last verse of an old favorite. Shockwave looked admiringly at her, and she blushed as she remembered herself. She dropped her hands from the keyboard. "Anyway. It was just something to pass the time."

"You have a beautiful voice."

Milantha reddened a little further and went back to contemplating the instrument. All this time. Who'd have thought I'd still remember. All I've changed, and this is the thing that sticks. She set her hands timidly back on the keys, and started another song. Shockwave put his arm around her waist and watched her, and Milantha was thankful that she had someone to share this moment with. This was a part of her from before, when her life had been relatively normal, and she'd looked forward to finishing school and getting a job and maybe having a family someday, if boys somehow ceased being totally gross.

How much of that can I still have? How much of it do I still want? The questions were still there, but they didn't seem as important anymore. She could still play. She could still sing. She still took pleasure in it. She still found release in it. She was among friends, she was loved. Here in this cozy little moment, nothing could take that away. If she could just stay here and play forever, they'd all be safe.

The song was already ending. Saftey's never guaranteed. Ever. Not even here, under all our security. I could still have been killed. What if it had been Estelle, or Sparky, or Iliana, or Lyric, Nylessa, Leila, Duke...If Shendar'd gotten away, might he have tried again, and struck at someone else? Her hands had stilled and her eyes were haunted. Shockwave nudged her. "Lanny? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she said mechanically. I'm fine because Iliana had the strength to do what was needed to keep me safe. And I'll have to be that strong, to protect everyone I love.

Maybe it was another rationalization. Milantha didn't care. If she had to kill to protect the ones she loved, then so be it. Her hands moved with a new determination.

*****

"It had to be said, Silversong, ye know that."

Iliana sighed. "Yes. And if it were necessary I would do it again. It is fact and she must accept it. She's moving much more quickly than I expected. Between my training and Shendar's, she'll be ready to pass up before long. She has an excellent memory for the books, and she's more talented than I would have thought at other skills as well."

Marshall chuckled. "Tha lass has a good teacher, that's certain." Iliana smiled slightly at the compliment, but it didn't last.

"This is something she must work through on her own, however," she sighed. "I can't do it for her, and I can't even help her with it. My only real worry is that she'll rationalize it away for now, without really dealing with it."

"I think ye can have a little more faith in 'er than that. She's knows what's at stake here."

Iliana shook her head fondly. "That girl is so full of contradictions. She's perfectly capable of evaluating and reacting properly to a situation, but she acts so hotheaded and impulsive."

Marshall chuckled. "It's called youth, m'lady, and I seem to recall that even you had one once."

"So I did," Iliana said dryly. "But I hardly think there is any comparison."

"Aye, you were always such a serious lass. And so is she, in her own way."

"Yes, it shows in her work. Perhaps I worry for nothing. But so many of those who've come to us because of this war come without fully understanding just what they are being asked to do, and give up. Most of them are capable of dealing with it, but not until they're forced to."

"And by then it may be much harder," Marshall nodded. "Ye're doing the right thing by 'er, to get it over with."

"To get it started, at least," Iliana sighed. "It's one thing to accept it, it's another to carry it out and learn to live with yourself afterwards." Marshall nodded thoughtfully, and for a moment they were silent, memories haunting them both.

Marshall shook out of it first. "Well, I suppose I should be getting back to the kitchen. Nobody's happy when dinner's late, and there's nothing worse than a den o' cranky thieves."

"By all means," Iliana chuckled. "Far be it from me to cause a riot by keeping you." She stood and walked with him to the door. Marshall opened it and started to step out, but he stopped abruptly, surprise giving way quickly to amusement. He stepped aside so Iliana could see, touching a finger to his beak. Moving silently, she shifted to his side and peered through the cracked door.

Across the hall, outside her apprentice's door, Shockwave and Milantha were standing with their arms around each other, talking softly. Marshall closed the door quietly. "Let's give them a minute."

Iliana shook her head. "I wouldn't have expected her to go to him. She seems bound and determined to do everything on her own. It's rare that she turns to anyone for comfort or help."

"Sounds like someone else I know," Marshall looked at her pointedly, folding his arms. "But then, ye rarely had a young man to take your troubles to, as I recall. Why was that, Silversong? And don't give me that line about time, ye know as well as I do there's more to than that, or ye wouldn't be lettin' yer young lass get away with it."

"He's good for her," Iliana said, sidestepping the question neatly. "He does wonders for her disposition, that's certain. Even if she is more prone to distraction now." Marshall knew what she was up to but let her play at it, as always. He didn't really need an answer, anyway.

"Aye, those two're a match, all right," he chuckled. "Though ye'd hardly know it at first glance. I heard some of the ranks placin' bets on how long they'll last."

"I do hope you put a stop to that."

"Of course not. I walked right up to them and put me money down on forever." Iliana looked at him, and he grinned back. She shook her head slowly.

Marshall peeked out of the door again. The two young ducks were kissing softly, but Shockwave was slowly moving away. A few more murmured words, and he was gone. Milantha seemed about to go back into her room, then she stopped and headed for the door where Marshall stood. He stepped back quickly, and opened the door when she knocked on it. Marshall smiled, seeing the decision in her eyes, and waved her toward her teacher before leaving and closing the door behind him.

 

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