Willow '06: The Magnificent Blending - JD

JD glanced around his small room and nodded to himself. The single wood straight-back chair, the tiny table barely big enough to hold his candle and wash pan, the small chest for storing his clothes and belongings, and the narrow wooden palate that served as his bed were all completely bare and wiped clean. He had been over every inch probably twenty times now, but it couldn't hurt for one last check. He didn't want to leave a single item behind, since he intended to never see this place again.

"Almost ready?"

JD glanced up at the door and smiled. "Raisin cookies?"

"Raisin cookies, six spinach buns, and a bag of sugared coffee cake slices," the woman chuckled, pushing the sizable bundle into his hands. "Can't have you going hungry on that long trip, can I?"

He smiled as he tucked the package into his satchel. "You're the best, Terry." He glanced around again. "God, I never thought I'd be able to turn my back on this place."

"You're very lucky, JD," the cook sighed, reaching out to straighten the boy's collar. "Don't screw this up, okay?"

"I won't," the dark-haired youth nodded solemnly. "And when I win a position as a High, I swear I'll come back and get you and Olivia out too."

"Don't make promises," Terry said softly, brushing down JD's soft grey jacket. "Just do your best, and don't let anyone make you think less of yourself. If you do your best, that's all that matters."

"I wish…" JD sighed and looked at his shoes. There were so many things he wanted to say to the woman who had been both big sister and surrogate mother for the past year, but he wasn't sure how to start.

Terry lifted his chin with her hand, giving that soft dimpled smile that always made him feel safe. His mama had smiled like that.

"You'll be fine, kiddo," she said softly. "Four Corners isn't that much different from New York, really. Sure, it's bigger, but a big city is a big city no matter how big it gets. Besides, so long as you're involved in the testing the Testing Authority will treat you like the most important noble of the empire." She rested a firm hand on his shoulder. "You're free of him, JD. Just make sure you stay that way."

JD studied his friend's eyes for a moment, but all he saw was warmth and reassurance. He nodded his agreement. He *was* free now. And he wouldn't let anything change that, ever.

"I'm going to come back for you," he said firmly. "Terry, promise me that if he tries anything, you'll run away and come find me." Terry started to say something, but JD caught both her hands. "Terry, please. Promise me, okay?"

"JD, he's not going to try anything," Terry replied, her eyes shifted toward the door nervously. "He's not interested in me."

"You know what I mean," JD pressed, tightening his grip.

"He's not…" She shrugged. "I'm not worried about that."

"Yet." Terry gave the boy a sharp look, but she didn't argue. "Terry, promise me?"

The blonde pursed her lips tightly, but she nodded. They stood a long moment, just holding tight to each other's hands, drawing strength from a friendly touch. But all too soon, Terry was giving them both a hearty shake.

"We'd better get going. You have to be on the noon coach, and Master Johannsen said you should meet him on the half hour before. If we don't leave now, we're going to be late."

JD nodded reluctantly; he certainly had no qualms about leaving as soon as possible. He would miss Terry and her spunky young daughter terribly, but this was an opportunity he couldn't dare pass up. He grasped his satchel and followed Terry out the door of his small room, not even bothering to look back. He was done here, and he was happy to be so.

They walked down the narrow hall of the bunkhouse into the straw- strewn stables where JD took a last glance. Despite all the bad things about this place, he had loved the horses. Diablo, Athena, Thor, Osiris... they had been his life for a year now. They may not have belonged to him, and he might despise their owner, but he sure was gonna miss them. He rubbed Charlemagne's brown muzzle affectionately, then allowed Terry to pull him away.

Terry had arranged for one of the other stable hands to have hitched up the small work wagon to one of the older horses for their trip to the stagecoach depot. JD was surprised to see Terry's spunky little girl playing by the entrance. The child caught sight of them and instantly abandoned the game to race into his arms. "JD!"

"Hey, baby girl!" He grabbed her up in a fierce hug. The little girl giggled as she wrapped her arms around his neck

"I'm going to miss you, JD!" "I'm gonna miss you too," JD said hoarsely. He tightened his hold and swung the little girl around, letting her curls and legs swing. "Man, what am I gonna do without my daily dose of Olivia Lovin'?"

Olivia giggled as he set her down. "You'll be too busy. You're gonna be important, just like me!"

"I am, huh?" JD grinned. Olivia hadn't truly understood exactly what JD was going away to do, or even why, but recently she had taken her six-year level tests and been rated as a potential strong Medium Earth talent. Right now she could barely move a handful of dirt with her magics, but someday she might be someone to be reckoned with. Olivia may not have completely understood, but she had latched on to the part where she would likely be taking the exact same tests at some point in the future and get to be just like JD.

"Yup, you're gonna be famous and rich and buy a big house for us to live in," Olivia declared with a child's certainty. "And then we can all live together, and I can have my own room and horse, and we'll have all our own servants and not have to work for Meany Morgan."

"Olivia!" Terry scolded, trying not to smile at the sour face the girl made when she mentioned their employer's name. "I have told you not to call Master Hill that."

"Yes, Mama," Olivia replied dutifully, even though both Terry and JD were sure she was only going through the motions. JD shook his head and smothered the urge to laugh; the girl was a handful, that was for sure.

"Alrighty, young lady, time to get this show on the road." He swung her up onto the buckboard before helping her mother up as well and finally scrambling up himself.

The ride to the depot was pleasant, JD enjoying Olivia's chatter about all the things she planned JD would do for her and her mother after winning a position as High. JD took in the sights of the city which had been his home for the last nine years and fought the mixed feelings. This was the city his mother had brought him to, the place where she had spent the last years of her life in relative happiness considering her illness and their hard life together. It was the city that had introduced him to the education his mother had worked so hard to give him, opening his mind to a world of possibilities, and it was the city that had given him the Greeres as a surrogate family after his mother's death.

But it was also the city where Morgan Hill lived. And that alone was reason enough to be happy to leave.

It didn't take long to reach the depot, which was teaming with activity. Coaches heading to various parts of the empire were lined up at the boarding docks, some boarding passengers while others were loading mail packages. JD pulled to a stop at a hitching post and hopped down to tie the mare. He then helped Terry and Olivia down, collected his satchel, and the trio started toward the coach office.

"Look out!"

Others joined the cry as JD turned to see a fireball roaring down the center of the street. He felt the heat against his skin as he pushed

Terry and Olivia behind a horse trough and landed himself roughly in the dirt, then rolled to a crouch and reviewed the situation. Chaos was erupting as people screamed and dove for cover, and JD was quick to consider how much worse this bad practical joke was likely to get. If the fire escaped the controlled ball, it could quickly spread to the many combustibles in the area – the feed for the coach horses, the wood buildings and wheels, the numerous materials from the passenger luggage and mail packages. This could get very bad very fast if someone didn't do something.

JD watched as several someones tried to use water and earth magic to little good. Biting his lip, the youth had a thought. The expression `fight fire with fire' was a common one, and yet many people believed you couldn't actually do just that. But why not? JD thought. You just had to do it right. With that in mind, he reached out with his talent to touch the fire.

He could feel the furious burning, the white-hot flames licking angrily as it reached the end of the street and paused before beginning a return trip back toward him. JD took a deep calming breath to control his own fears and opened further to the power, pulling in more strength than he usually attempted. Steadying himself, he focused his thoughts and stopped the oncoming fireball in its place with a thick wall of his own flames.

Once the enemy fire's approach was halted, he progressed to the next step of his plan and wrapped his own flames around the enemy ball. The approaching fires were hot, but JD's were hotter and burned faster and more furious. He squeezed his fires into a tight sphere around the rival ball, eating all the air within while at the same time cutting it off from any more coming from the outside. It didn't take long for the inner ball to die out from lack of air, and then JD allowed his own fires to go out.

It took a few minutes for people to realize the threat was over and begin to pull themselves together. JD sat back on his heels and took a deep breath, wiping the sweat from his face. He turned to see Terry clutching Olivia to her, the little girl shivering and wide- eyed. JD got to his feet and moved to help them in turn only to find a tall thin man already offering his arm.

"My goodness, what happened here?" the man asked as he lifted Terry to her feet.

"The Highest Aspect only knows, Master Johannsen" Terry gasped, setting Olivia on her feet. "There was a giant fireball attacking, and then it appears that people used their various magics to put it out."

"Various?" The Guild Master glanced at JD, who simply shrugged. If the Guild Master hadn't actually seen what had happened, it just seemed best not to brag about his part in it. "Well, thank goodness everyone appears alright. JD?"

"I'm fine, sir," the boy nodded. "Just a little dusty, I guess."

"It's a miracle no one was killed!" Terry fumed. "A person who would do that…! You really should do something."

"Indeed, madam," the Guild man nodded solemnly. "I assure you there shall be a full inquiry into the matter; I shall talk to the guardsmen myself. For now, we really must get young Mister Dunne here squared away before the stage leaves, otherwise he will not be prepared for his journey." The Master pulled a flat leather book from his jacket and handed it to JD. "These are your tickets; be careful not to lose them or you could end up walking the whole way to Four Corners. And since you must arrive at your scheduled time or face stiff penalties you certainly don't want that."

JD nodded and tucked the leather fold into his own jacket pocket, then took the small purse of coins that Master Johannsen offered. "This," the Master continued, "is your expense money. Don't spend any more than you absolutely have to or it won't last very long. It will need to keep you the entire trip to the testing facilities; after you pass you will earn additional coins to continue your training."

"Training?" JD asked, frowning. "I thought… well, I guess I thought after I passed the test there would be job opportunities."

"Oh, very likely," Johannsen nodded. "But first you will go through extensive training to learn to best utilize your abilities. A High talent has potential far beyond the average person and therefore requires different training what is available through your normal schooling. Don't worry, JD, I have every confidence in your success, and look forward to the day when my confidences are proven correct."

JD blushed slightly at the Guild man's encouragement, but enjoyed the warm feeling in his stomach. From the glow on Terry's face she felt the same, and it was nice to know there were people with so much belief in him.

"Well then, you better get going," Johannsen said, gesturing toward the dock for capital-bound coaches. "Be safe, and do well, John Daniel. I look forward to hearing of your many successes."

"Thank you, sir," JD grinned. He then took a moment to give Terry and Olivia each a quick hug, and then he hurried to climb into the appropriate coach, handing the first part of his travel tickets to the conductor. Once he was settled into his seat, his satchel stowed carefully under the seat, he leaned against the window. It would be a long trip to Four Corners, and he planned to enjoy every minute of it.

Buck's Story