Xander's Chance (Prologue: Xander's Origins Chapter One, page 1 of 9)

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The boy ran through the crowded marketplace, dodging merchants' carts and weaving through the patrons. Masked and hooded to hide his deformity, Xander relied on his special senses, the ones that no one else possessed. He was able to see, hear, smell and predict the actions of those around him. The world moved like it was in slow motion, giving him time to react with unnatural agility.

A full head and shoulders taller than other kids his age, he had lost the ability to work with the rest of the street urchins. No one took pity on a young man in a mask the way they did a cute little boy with dirty hands and huge, innocent eyes. Xander was forced to learn to use his special skills to steal from the market's patrons rather than beg with the rest of the kids. He was able to creep up, snatch a purse and run before anyone registered that the hooded youth ever approached.

Today, however, he wasn't lifting anyone's coppers. He used his gifts to get him home, fast, after another of his senses tipped him off. Sometimes, he could even hear the thoughts of others. It was this strange talent that warned him of something very bad.

He reached the hovel he shared with his mother beyond the edge of the city, where all those who lived in poverty were similarly exiled. The one-room shack was neat, with pallets on one side, a fire at its center, a small area to prepare food and crates lining one wall that acted both as storage and seating.

Xander yanked the door open and froze. His mother - who had been sick for weeks - was not alone in their home. A well-dressed noblewoman knelt beside her still form. The stranger wore well-spun clothing and carried ornate weapons with bejeweled hilts. Her kidskin boots alone were worth more than everything Xander had ever stolen combined.

"Who are you?" he managed at last.

"Come in and close the door, boy," the wealthy woman directed.

Xander obeyed. He didn't remove his mask and hood, even within the confines of his home. The stranger glowed strangely in the otherwise dim lighting. Her aristocratic features were pale and her eyes exactly as Xander's mother had once described them: the hue of spring. They were pale green with silver rings that seemed to liquefy and swirl as Xander watched.

The sudden sensation of falling made him clutch the door frame. The feeling that there was someone else in his thoughts made him shake his head viciously.

"How old are you, boy?" the woman asked.

"Ten summers." Xander's surprise turned to concern for his mother. "She cannot serve you today, ikira."

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