Rustling, fleeting noises in the underbrush, Roy thought it was some sort of animal at first, but he'd been careful and made sure he'd left no food out.

Traveling this far from the city was dangerous. His dealings with Threshold, and in turn, their truce with the marauders, usually spared him from raids, but the wildlife had no such agreement. Sometimes, on nights like this he wondered if they'd been right about him - wondered if he really had gone a bit senile in his old age. Fraternizing with outlaws and still even among them, he was still one of the only ones willing to trade with the Aegis. The others said it was a matter of time before they succumbed to their natures, and turned on him, but he noticed that didn't stop them from trying to strike up their own deals. There was that noise again.

This time he managed to catch a glimpse of it disappearing into the trees. Too small to be a marauder, but much too large to be vermin. Something was wrong. He fumbled for the remote in his pocket. He shouldn't have been outside the transport at night. He knew better than that. Finally, his fingers closed around the familiar shape and the Transport's spotlights flared to life. He may have been senile, and possibly careless, but he wasn't stupid enough to be out here without precautions, or a weapon. He unholstered his sidearm and pointed it at the trees where he'd seen the movement.

There was no point in calling out. This was no slasher movie. Whoever, or whatever it was had already seen him, and was probably still watching.

For what seemed like an eternity, he waited, acutely aware of the rustling of every leaf and the cracking of every bough in the wind. Then something hit him in the chest.

"Put the gun down."

A child?

Something else hit him in the arm. Rocks. Someone was throwing rocks at him.

"I said..." He was pelted again."Put the gun down."

There wasn't much heft behind the rocks - and that voice? Definitely a child. But he was a hundred miles away from anything even approaching a town - in either direction. What would a child be doing out here? The survivor of a Marauder attack perhaps? It seemed unlikely. Marauders weren't exactly known for their tendency to leave survivors.

He dodged another rock, this one larger, and aimed at his head.

"Ok, fine. I'll make you a deal. I'll put the gun down if you show yourself."

There was a long pause, but no more rocks.

"You first."

A standoff with a child. He stifled a smile, as he placed the gun at his feet, but the voice scolded him.

"That's too close."

Fair enough, he thought, kicking it away from him. This kid was no fool, but he'd now fulfilled his side of the bargain. It was time for reciprocation. He spread his arms wide.


In front of him, the foliage rustled, there was the sound of snapping twigs, and out stepped a small girl, of no more than ten. She was wearing a crumpled, tan, tunic dress smeared with dirt, and black leggings. It looked to him like some kind of uniform, but not one he'd ever seen, and he didn't imagine too many school trips came out this far.

"What are you doing out here?"

"I got lost."

That was no help.

"What about your parents?"

She furrowed her brow, confused.


He shut off the Transport's lights, and the sudden noise startled her. That's when he saw her eyes flash.

Gold flecked fire in the darkness.


But how was that possible? The Aegis couldn't have children. It was the one thing everyone knew about them. She raised her hands uncertainly - to show him she had no more rocks, he guessed.

"I'm hungry."

"And you thought I'd give you food?"

She shook her head. "Not sure, but you're alone, and you're old, so I can outrun you."

This time, Roy laughed."Fair enough. What's your name kid?"