Justin pedaled frantically up the hill, reaching the top and coasting down. He made a wild grab for his breath, caught it and continued. He pushed himself for speed. Gotta break my record...

Suddenly something leapt out from the bushes at the side of the bike path. He couldn't tell what it was-he caught sight of scales, but thought he saw feathers too. "Cheesus Briest!" he shouted-his parents didn't want him to annoy Christians, though he doubted that would help much-and swerved. A bush caught in his bike spokes, and down he went. Luckily this was a dirt path, not paved, or he would have ended up with a nasty case of rope burn on the cheek-as it was, it was smudged and bruised from a root, and his clothes were ruined. He looked around for the thing that had caused him this trouble, but it seemed to have escaped unscathed-which is more than I managed, he thought ruefully. Suddenly something caught his eye on the ground near his face. He reached over and grabbed it. It was a leather strap...on the other end of it there was a small pendant. It was black, and shaped like a sword. He picked it up and looked at it. Cool! he thought. He was a big fan of RPG video games-he loved swords & sorcery stuff of any kind. He hung it around his neck. He turned around to get his bike-and groaned. One of the wheels was totally bent out of shape-it would never roll again. This was the third time that had happened. It was this wood path...it always wrecked his bike. But he liked it here in the woods. There was an element of mystery to them. You never knew what was hiding around the next corner, or off there behind those trees, where you had just seen a flash of motion out of the corner of your eye...

He picked up his bike and wheeled it along beside him down the path. The exit from the woods was near here, but it was a couple of blocks from there to his house. He walked from the woods and to the end of the first street, turned a corner-and there was Rodney Thompson and co, in the flesh. And there was a lot of it. Rodney Thompson was the biggest kid in school, and he took care to make sure everyone knew it. Justin was one of the few people who weren't afraid enough of him to buy "protection." He took care never to be caught alone-he wasn't big enough to fight off Rodney himself, let alone the gang that was always with him. How they had found out about his regular rides was a mystery to him.
"Well well well, what have we here?" he grunted. "Not only fat, idiotic, and a jerk, but incredibly clich├ęd, as well," said Justin loud enough to be heard. "Just go back under whatever rock you crawled out from under, okay, Rodney?" "Oh, not smart, Justie. I don't like it when people use words I don't understand. I also don't like it when people won't pay me not to beat them up." A short shrimpy kid sidled up to him. " 'Pay protection,' okay, Rodney? Saying it that way is bad for PR..." "Pay protection, right. So you pay me a month's back fees, or things are gonna get rough." "Yeah, like I'd be carrying sixty bucks with me even if I had the slightest intention of paying you. Shove off. I wouldn't want you to get hurt. We're all pacifists here, right?" Justin replied. He didn't stand a chance against Rodney's gang, he knew that-but maybe he could bluff his way out of this... Rodney smirked. "Yeah, I'm a pacifist." He held up his hand. "This is my paci-fist. Prepare to feel it hitting your face." And with that he motioned his gang to come with him forwards. Justin gulped. He dropped the bike and turned around, but some goons had gotten behind him while he was being macho at Rodney. No escape now. He readied himself and backed up against a wall. A goon came at him, a punch flying towards his face. He held up his hands to block it-and suddenly had the strangest feeling. There was a burning heat against his neck, and suddenly he knew just what to do. He raised his hands in an X shape, caught the fist, and twisted his hands around in a certain way-and suddenly the goon was on the ground. The others started in surprise, then all came at him at once. Justin was as surprised as they were, but he had no time for shock-he twisted himself around and waited, the strange feeling still there. The thugs moved in for the attack, but suddenly several more were on their faces or clutching at assorted limbs with nobody- -including Justin-knowing how they got there, and Justin saw an opening. He slipped past a pair of dumbfounded goons and made a break for it. The crew made a halfhearted attempt to follow, but they didn't want to catch up and he knew it. He got around the corner and stopped, breathing heavily. The strange feeling had gone, and the burning against his neck was gone. Justin pulled out the pendant and stared at it, confusedly. What had just happened?