Xander's Chance (Prologue: Xander's Origins Chapter One, page 2 of 9)


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"I do not seek a handmaiden, boy," the stranger said.

Xander crossed to his mother and knelt, wary of the stranger. His mother spoke of a rich woman often, one who sent her on errands when his mother was not wanted at the whorehouse where she made what living was afforded a poor woman beyond the marriage age.

His mother was so pale, like the bodies of the dead he saw tossed in the channel at the other edge of town. His attempts at braiding her dark hair the way she liked it had ended up in a series of knots, because he didn't quite understand how to do it and his man-sized fingers were too clumsy.

The instinct that warned him flared again. Her mind was too weak to talk to him anymore; she'd gone silent this afternoon.

"Take off your hood," the stranger said.

"My mother forbids it."

"Son, your mother is nearly gone." There was a soft note in the haughty woman's voice. "You do not hide yourself when you pay your respects."

Xander's eyes were glued to his mother. He hadn't wanted to admit that the sudden muting of her thoughts was a sign of her sliding into death. It made no sense. She'd been sleeping for weeks; surely she could stay sleeping until she was rested enough to fight the illness?

He removed his hood and mask and inched away from the stranger. The two times in his life he recalled people seeing his eyes - which glowed like the red gem at his mother's throat - were not pleasant. He was beaten once, at the age of seven, and the second time, his mother was.

"Good boy," the woman said.

Xander held his mother's hand and lifted his gaze. The stranger didn't flinch or curse or scream or run. Instead, a slow smile spread across her face. It was not a warm smile, like Xander's mother gave him, but a kind of smile that left Xander scared, without knowing why.

The stranger placed silk-lined gloves on the ground and removed her cloak.

Xander barely resisted the urge to touch the finely woven garment with a fur lining that was certain to be the softest thing in the world. With his extra sensitive senses, he often found himself lost in the feel or scent of things. Right now, he wanted to touch the lining, to see if it would bring him comfort. At his silence, the stranger looked where he did.

"You like my cloak?" the woman asked.

Xander nodded.

"Take it. It's yours." She handed it to him.

Xander was instantly fascinated by the sensation of downy fur and cotton spun so finely, it was like silk. He dug his dirty hands into the depths of the folded cloak, relishing the feel of it, then hugged it. What would it be like, if the whole world was so soft?

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