Chapter 1

Night had fallen over the city of Quren, in the kingdom of Pienur. The streets were empty and silent in the shadow of the dark moon, Destrelia. Darkened alleys were littered with silent figures, draped in cloaks, waiting for their contacts to arrive. The citizens hid within their homes, feigning ignorance of the dark deals being made just outside their windows. Quren was a town of thieves and mercenaries, that prey on the innocent travelers. The city was nestled in the northeastern peninsula of the southern kingdom. By day it was a simple farming community, at night, however, Quren's dark side was revealed.
As Destrelia reached its peak and began it s decent, a large hulking figure entered from the north. The man draped in a massive, dirty brown cloak, walked the deserted streets. The size of the man deterred even the most brave, daring and desperate thieves. He followed the winding road to the only open building in town, The Silent Blade Tavern, known for its poor clientele and for turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the unsavory deals made within its walls. Thieves of every size and shape, drank with heavily painted whores. The prostitutes, young and old, were scattered about the tavern. The man entered the bustling establishment, ignoring all of the fawning women, and sat at one of the few empty tables, awaiting the mercenary he is scheduled to meet.
Minutes later, another man opened the door and walked in. Unlike the first, he was much shorter, just below six feet. He ran a hand through his short, brownish-blond hair, and scanned the tavern. Nodding to several acquaintances, his eyes settled on the huge man in the corner. Sighing softly, he made his way across the busy tavern and over to the table. “Might you be Lord Megrigel?” He bowed, politely.
“I am.” A low deep growl answered.
The mercenary nodded, “I am Kared Davis. I received your letter. What were the job you needed done?” He sat down across the table.
Violent dirt colored eyes glittered at him in the lamp light. “My mater is in need of some capable warriors. However, just fighting will not be enough. He requires quick minds and tact, as well.” The words were pointed and sharp.
Another nod. “I see. What type of job would these warriors be required to do? Spying, smuggling, or are you looking for assassins? Is your master recruiting members for an army?” He mentally made a note of other mercenaries that might be useful.
“Master Zygarvellus needs several different things.” Megrigel crossed his thick arms. “He is looking for someone. He also requires some information from the Library of Lost Souls in Azazir. The location of a certain artifact. As well, as some political assistance.” Shooting the younger man a dangerous look, he continued. “Are you interested or should I find someone else?“
Normally unintimidated by others, Kared found himself oddly on edge. “I ... should be able to easily take care of the information. I have a few contacts at the library. I would need more information about the artifact, however. A description, also who might posses it. However, I will need some help with the other job requirements.”
The larger man nodded. “Good. My master will pay you eight hundred star-crowns now, and then an additional thousand when you have completed the job. If you must hire additional people, he will pay them five hundred star-crowns to start and eight hundred more afterward. Any expenses will be paid for. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” Kared extended his hand to complete the agreement.
Uncrossing his arms, Megrigel clasped Kared's hand and shakes. Then he set a large bag on the table, the telltale chink telling Kared exactly what the bag contains. “I expect you to report to me, in three weeks time. You have until then to hire any others. The information on the artifact will be delivered at that time. There are directions in the bag, don't be late.” Standing, the giant man left.
Kared rubbed his hand, wincing. 'Damn, he's insanely strong. He can't be human ... Half-orc, maybe. That s a lot of money for a simple job ... Hmm, I wonder is Aven is still in Puloni ... He would be perfect for the political aspect of this job. Now, who do I know that excels in locating someone ...' Picking up the bag of coins, he thought over several colleagues that might be useful. After deciding against them for some reason or another, he sighed. 'Great. This means I have to hire someone from the guild ... I hate dealing with those idiots.' After writing a couple of letters, one to Aven and one to the mercenary guild in Conall, he headed off to the inn.

Clouds filled the sky at dawn. Dark and menacing, they rumbled and flickered, heralding the coming of a summer storm. Soon, lightning streaked to meet the ground. Thunder boomed and crashed endlessly. Moments later, rain poured from the dreary sky. The wind howled from the north, singing its own melancholy song. The strong gusts blew the torrents of rain, keeping the farmers indoors. The sound of the rain hitting the rooftops, mingled with music of the wind, created a sorrowful melody.
Kared rose with the dawn, collected his belongings, and headed downstairs to eat. Afterward he pulled on a dark blue cloak, and headed for the post office, heedless of the storm. After sending his two letters via Poofer Post, mail delivered instantly by a mage specializing in teleportation magic, he waited for his replies. Fifteen minutes later, a venerable wizard appeared, with a white beard and brown pointed hat.
Eying Kared suspiciously, he asked, “You, Kared? Bah, what the 'ell kinda name is that, anyhow? Hehehehheheheh!” His gravelly voice cracks with age. “So are ya Kared, boy?”
Exasperated at being called boy, Kared sighed. “Yes, I am.”
The old mage fumbled in the numerous pockets of his robe for several minutes. “I got a couple o' letters 'ere for ya, boy. Bah, gotta be in 'ere somewhere.” Mumbling, the elderly man searched for the letters.
“Might my letters be the ones sticking out from underneath your hat?”
Eh? Oh, right, right. Good thinkin' boy.” The wizard pulled two crumpled letters out from his hat. Then he fumbled around in a pocket.
Kared sighed again, “May I have my letters, please?”
“Eh, I'm gettin' to it, sonny. 'Old yer 'orses and let an old man find 'is glasses. Gotta make sure their for ye. Can't be givin' ya someone else's letters, ya know?” Producing a pair of spectacles out of a pocket, the old man read the name on the letters.
Kared's shoulders drooped. “So are they for me?”
The mage glared at him. “Patience, kiddo. Ya kids, nowadays, have no concept of patience. Ya, should let an old man take 'is time.” He trailed off into incoherent mumbling and handed Kared the two letters. Still muttering, the mage disappeared in a poof of brown smoke.
“Right ...” Kared adjusted the hood of his cloak and walked down the street to a tavern. Ordering a tankard of ale, he sat at an empty table to read his replies. Opening the first letter he read.
Kared, I were surprised to hear from you ... Especially concerning a private job offer. It sounds intriguing. If you have some free time, could you meet me here in Puloni? I'll be leaving soon, but if you decide to come visit, I'll wait for you. Just send another letter my way. It would be great to catch up with you as well. It's been too damned long since we've had a couple of drinks together. Be sure and let me know what you decide. A. Stryken
A small smile grew on Kared s face near the end of the letter. 'Good old Aven.' He opened the other letter, and read, his smile quickly fading.
Mr. Davis, In response to your request, I have looked through our recorded members. I will need at least two full weeks to find a properly qualified mercenary for your specific needs. I will send my recommendation letter to you at that time. Thank you for your understanding and patience in this matter. Tasha, receptionist Conall Mercenary Guild
Narrowing his eyes in irritation, he crumpled the letter into a ball. 'Damned guilds, it always takes forever to get what you need. Too damned much paperwork ...' Taking out some paper, he wrote another letter to Aven.
Aven, I'm glad my letter reached you. I weren't sure if you were still on your job or not. It's good to know you have some free time. This is an odd assignment and I would feel much better if I could work with someone I know, I can count on. Tell you what, I'm in Quren right now. I'll meet you in the Siren's Call in two weeks. However, concerning those drinks, I believe they are on you this time. K. Davis
Grinning, he paid his tab and left the tavern. Pulling his cloak tight to protect him from the rain, he walked back to the post office. After sending his letter, Kared stocked up on supplies for his trip. He finished his preparations by renting a horse from the stable. Mounting the speckled stallion, he rode out of town.

The two weeks of travel passed quickly. Kared arrived in the port town of Puloni at sunset. The smell of the sea drifted lazily through the streets, mingling with the scent of fried fish. Small fisherman's huts lined the northern edge of town, and several larger thatched buildings intermingled with shops along the main street. The inn sat in the middle of town facing a fountain carved into the likeness of a leaping swordfish. The Siren's Call was located directly across the road. A sign hanging over the door of the tavern, depicted a beautiful woman reclining on a patch of rocks, playing a harp. A gentle lullaby floated on the breeze, the minstrel's song was soothing and elegant. Light from the setting sun bathed the town in a rosy glow.
Knowing Aven well, Kared went straight to the Siren s Call. He looked around the bustling tavern. Filled with local fishermen, Aven's blond hair stood out among all the brunettes. Kared ran a hand through his own light-colored hair and walked over to greet his friend. “Evening, Aven. How have you been?” He sat down and ordered a drink from the bored looking waitress.
Dark violet eyes glanced over at Kared. “The drinks are on me, eh? Bullsh*t.” Grinning broadly, Aven continued. “I paid when we are on that job together in Melini. It's been a while, hadn't it? Always good to see you.”
Smiling back, Kared relaxed. “Great to see you, too. So how did your job go?” He nodded at the waitress when she brought his drink.
“Boring. I were guarding a swordfish boat ... A swordfish boat!” Aven looked disgruntled and took a long drink from his tankard. “Honestly Kared, you have no idea the dangers these fishermen have here.” Sarcasm rang in his voice. “I were constantly busy, protecting the fishermen from rivals. Rivals, pah! The rivals were other fish! How am I supposed to handle sharks? It's not like I have a gun or anything! ... ... . It's not funny, you bastard!” Aven glared at the laughing Kared. “All I have is a sword. Granted it is a damned good sword, but it is still just a sword.” He patted the claymore on his belt. “I'd like to see even Orthil handle a bunch of sharks with just a sword. Would you stop laughing!” Aven grabbed a roll off of his plate and threw it at Kared.
Kared caught the roll and snickered a little more. “Why, thanks. How did you know I were hungry?” He took a bite out of the roll. After a minute, he grinned. “I'm almost positive Orthil would make you eat those words. Poor Aven, such a tough time on a simple job. Ha ha ha!
“Shut up Kared. Just because he were a tough old bastard twenty years ago, doesn't mean he still is. But that never stopped him from telling us all about how great he were during training... I don”t think you could be that old and still be an active mercenary. Besides, that were what? Six years ago? By merc standards, we're old men now.”
“Thanks for the reminder. I'm thirty-two and I'm being called old by someone only four years younger than me...” Kared sighed.
“Ha ha ha! Keep in mind four years is still four years.” Aven grinned.
“Thanks.” Kared threw part of the roll back at Aven, who caught it easily. “So what are your plans now, sonny?”
Aven twitched slightly at the name. “Wouldn't you like to know, old man? I would like to hear about your new job.”
He winced at the words old man being directed at him. “I'm not too sure about my new employer...” Taking a deep breath, and a long drink from his tankard, Kared told Aven all about his meeting with Megrigel. “So that's my new job. What do you think?”
Aven leaned back in his chair, “I think it definitely sounds odd. I agree with you about him maybe being a half-orc. Ugh, the mere mention of it turns my stomach.”
Kared smirked. “I'm not so sure about that. Your last girlfriend seemed kinda orcish.”
“Not funny, man. Not funny. Speaking of girlfriends, what's up with you and this priestess of Deima, I've heard so much about?” Aven grinned broadly.
“Who? Kyrsti? Nothing. She gave me some information for a job I were doing a little while back.”
“Right, uh huh, sure.”
“Shut up. Anyway, back on topic, do you have some free time? I'd feel much better working with someone that knows what he's doing and how he'll do it. I can't think of anyone with better people skills, other than you. Well, unless someone makes you mad... .” Kared trailed off.
“At least I know how to loose my temper. You've gotten mad what, three times since I met you? Ah, never mind. Now, about this assignment. Normally I would say yes, right away, since I would know the person I'm working with. However, I got a letter this morning, from my little sister Kailin.”
“What s up? Is your mom all right?” Kared looked genuinely concerned.
“No, she s gotten sick again. It's been happening so much lately. Normally, I would just send a letter or stop in for a day or two. But, my sister is really worried about her and wants me to come home for a while to help take care of her. Cheer her up a little, you know? So I need to take some time off.”
I completely understand. How long had your mom been like this?
“Since dad left.” Aven's eyes narrowed and he stared at the table. “It really devastated her. She hasn't been the same.”
Kared exhaled, “I see. Well, when your mom is feeling better, drop me a line, okay? I'll keep in touch, and you do the same. That way, if you want to sign up then, you can. Sound good?”
Aven nodded, “Right. Now, about that girlfriend...”
Kared groaned, "You aren't going to let it drop, are you?"
“Not a chance in hell.”
The two mercenaries spent several hours in the tavern, laughing and catching up. Around midnight, they paid their tabs and went across the street to get a good-nights sleep. In the morning, Kared saw Aven off. Then he walked to the post office to see if the guild finally wrote him that recommendation letter.


In the city of Melini, another mercenary was also waiting for the guild. She stalked toward the guild hall with an angry look on her face. Her crimson breastplate shone brightly in the morning sun, and her strawberry blond hair whipped behind her, with every stride she took. “Damned mercenary guilds! I should have just joined the fighter s guild!” She stomped up the steps and slammed the front door open.
The receptionist jumped. “Oh! Y ... You startled me, miss... .” The meek woman trailed off as the mercenary fixed her with a nasty look.
“Just how much longer do I have to wait! I asked for a new assignment yesterday!” She exploded at the secretary. This is stupid! I want a new job, NOW!”
The receptionist, who had started all of an hour ago, flinched at the screechy voice of the other woman. “P... Please w..wait. I will go find someone to help you ...” The poor woman raced upstairs.
“Humph!” The irritated mercenary leaned on the secretary's desk, tapped her foot impatiently.
Approximately five minutes, later an man in a white shirt and black pants walked down the stairs, the frightened receptionist in tow. “Yes, Darlene told me you needed ... Oh. It's you, Raquel. Why are you scaring Darlene?”
Raquel glared at the man then at Darlene. “I don't have time for your condensation, Kytel. I want my new job.”
Kytel smiled slyly at her. “Okay, I have just the job for you, actually. The Conall mercenary guild contacted me a week ago, with a job, working for a mercenary named Kared Davis. I think you would be perfect. I'm sending you to Yunsi in Pienur. You leave today.”
“WHAT?!?!?!? Why are you sending me to that backwater hick kingdom?! My talents will rot down there!!” Raquel's voice got more shrill with each word she said.
Kytel rubbed his ears. “I'm sending you down there because he asked for some specific talents. You fit perfectly. He is looking for someone and you're good at finding information on people.” She stomped her foot. “I can't believe this! You want me to go all the way to Pienur to play lackey to some loner?! Why should I?”
Kytel shrugged, “Oh I don't know. Maybe for the five hundred star-crowns he will pay up front. Or perhaps for the eight hundred, he'll pay when the job is completed.”
Raquel s jaw dropped. “What? Who is this guy?”
Kytel cleared his throat slightly. “He is one of the two best mercenaries out there. He had been in the business for six years. He's good. So when he asked for our help, we jumped at the chance.”
“Six years? Whoo hoo, an old fogie.”
“Watch your mouth! Kared Davis is probably the best mercenary ever, with the exception of Aven Stryken. Unorthodox, but they always get the job done. Maybe this assignment will teach you some respect! Now get out of here. You are meeting him in three weeks. I'm warning you, don't act all high and mighty around him.”
Raquel glared at Kytel once more before turning around and stalked out the door, slamming it.
“Excuse me, Mr. Kytel? Who were that?” Darlene timidly asked.
Turning to face the young woman, Kytel sighed. “The most annoying type of mercenary.”


After waiting almost thirty minutes, Kared finally got his letter from the mercenary guild. However, the letter is from the Melini branch. After looking confused for several minutes, he walked outside. He opened his letter and read;
Mr. Davis, I apologize that this letter took so long in coming. The Conall branch contacted us with your request because they had no one with the proper qualifications to assist you. I went through our records and found a mercenary that can help you. I have sent our choice to Yunsi to meet with you, in three weeks time. I apologize again for any inconvenience we may have caused you. I assure you, we simply wanted to make sure, we could help. Kytel Avestin, Melini Mercenary Guild
With a shake of his head, Kared folded up the letter and placed it in his bag. 'I hate guilds.' He then fumbled around in his bag for the directions to his next meeting with his new boss. Fishing out the directions, he went to the stable to rent another horse, for the eight-day journey.
On his third day of travel, he heard the noise of battle sounding from just to the south. He glanced at the hill blocking his view of the fight, and decided it wouldn't delay him too much, to stop and see what were going on.
The clang of steel rang loudly across the plain. The grunts and groans of orcs were intermingled with the dying screams of goblins. A dark-haired man twirled his lance and impaled a goblin. The creature squealed and squirmed on the weapon, which only increased its suffering. Not even glancing at the orc that was approaching from behind, the fighter pulled his lance out of the dying goblin and spun it around, neatly decapitating the approaching enemy. Stepping back a couple of spaces, the blue-eyed warrior glanced at the remaining foes. Five orcs and twenty goblins littered the ground, while the remaining seven goblins glanced around looking for a way to escape, and the three orcs mumbled incoherently. Changing his hold on his weapon, the fighter took a step toward the small group of goblins, planing on finishing them off quickly when a rumble from behind drew his notice. The ground shook slightly, causing the few remaining goblins to squeak and run away. The orcs, being a very unintelligent race, charged the man. Moving much faster than the orcs could follow, he rushed in close and made three slight movements with his lance. Stopping five steps away from the three ugly creatures, he turned just in time to see three heads fall from their respective bodies. Dropping to a defensive crouch, the fighter positioned his lance toward the rise of the hill, awaiting the oncoming monster.
A little way to the north, Kared eyed the warrior, interested, noting the speed and skill of the lone man, studying the reflexes and movements with an experienced eye. Curious, he reined in his horse to watch the final outcome of the battle.
The vibrating of the ground increased as the huge ogre, at last, appeared on the hillside. For a moment the fighter was amazed at the creature's size, for ogres usually die before growing to their full size of approximately eight feet in height, then he concentrated on the monster. The ogre towered over the lone warrior, the monster's club was large as the fighter's waist. The creature swung at the fighter, who leaped aside, rolling clear of the blow. The drooling ogre swung again, this time making a huge hole where the man was crouched. The fighter, appeared behind the monster, and thrust with his lance, hitting the ogre in the back of the knee. It howled in pain and swung backward, hitting the man in the side and sent him flying across the hillside. The man rolled several times after hitting the ground. Taking a few shallow breaths, he watched the enraged creature stalk toward him. The ogre raised its club high, preparing to finish off its opponent. Then a circle of flames appeared around its feet. The monster, not much brighter than an orc, looked at the circle of fire, then at the prone man lying on the ground, his eyes closed and his mouth moving slightly. The warrior's eyes snapped open as he said the final word of his spell, "Ierical!" The flames shot high into the sky, engulfing the ogre in a column of flames. Howling the creature, tried to hit the flames with its club, with no success. After several moments the ogre fell to the ground, charred and burned. The magical fire died when the ogre was no longer breathing.
With a soft exhale, the man slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, wincing and holding his side the entire time.
After watching the surprising conclusion to the battle, Kared, with several questions running through his mind, lead his horse over to the injured fighter. Stopping a few paces away, he commented. “Interesting way to kill an ogre.” He glanced over at the smoking corpse.
The dark-haired man, after studying Kared for several moments, said nothing, and slowly rose to his feet.
Kared looked stunned. 'Not many people would be able to stand after taking a hit like that. In fact, few people would be able to move at all. He's good ... Who is this man?' Climbing down off his rented stallion, he walked over to the warrior, keeping well out of reach of that deadly lance. “I saw your fight with the scum. Impressive. Not many people can fight like that.”
Tilting his head slightly, the younger man regarded Kared seriously. “Not many people would sit idly and watch, either.” His breathing was shallow and his voice had an interesting accent.
“You seemed to be doing fine.” Kared stated, glancing at the way the warrior was holding his right side. 'Despite his injuries he still hadn't dropped his guard. He isn't from around here; his accent tells me that.' Walking over to the ogre s body, Kared continued. “You're a good fighter. I haven't seen anyone use a lance around here, in a long while.”
Refusing to take his eyes off Kared, the taller man shrugged. Maybe, you are not looking close enough. Tell me stranger, what do you want with me?
Turning back to face him, Kared motioned to the dead bodies strewn about the ground. “Actually, I were impressed with your fighting ability. I'm looking for capable warriors to assist me with a job. Might you be interested?”
Looking skeptical, the younger man frowned. “What makes you think I would be?”
Kared nodded, “And you're cautious, a good trait in a warrior. I have no way of knowing if you re interested or not. That's why I asked. I don't normally just go around asking strangers to join me on a job, for your information.”
Wary indigo eyes studied Kared, “And you would be?”
“I am Kared Davis, a mercenary. I were on my way to a meeting with my newest employer, when I heard the sounds of a fight. You seem like a good fighter. The way you handled that ogre showed you have a couple of tricks up your sleeve and a calm enough mind to make good use of them. I must say, damned good trick.” He gestured to the still smoking corpse. “So what's your name?”
Narrowing his eyes slightly, the fighter replied. “Drennis. Drennis Frey. Personally, this seems an odd way of requiting someone.”
Kared sighed, “Yeah, I know. I had someone in mind to help me, but he had something more important to do. So I'm in a tight spot. I hired someone from the Mercenary Guild, but I don't trust guild information. I like the way you handle yourself. So what do you say?”
“I have heard of you. One of the top two mercenaries in the business. Why would someone of your caliber feel the need to work with a non-mercenary? I understand that you are extremely picky about your associates. I have also heard you are not a man to cross.” Drennis took a deep breath and let go of his side.
Kared eyed him. “What? Not a man to cross ? I think you have me confused with Aven Stryken. He's the temperamental one... “ He trailed off thinking about the last man to push Aven too far. The man ended up in a hospital for three months.
“So why do you not ask him? I have heard of him, as well.” Running a hand along the few broken links in his chain mail, Drennis sighed.
Watching him, Kared was again amazed with Drennis' stamina. 'Interesting. After just ten minutes he is acting like nothing is wrong.' Returning his attention to the man in front of him, Kared shrugged. “Like I said, he had something more important to do. That puts me in a bind. As for working with a non-mercenary,” He shrugs, “anything is better than a guild member... However, I have a question for you. Are you any good with politics?”
Looking slightly confused, Drennis nodded. “If you are referring to the convincing of people to do what you want while making them believe that is what they want. Then I suppose.”
“Great. Then you are perfect for this job.” He looked relieved.
“Excuse me; but, I never said I were interested in this job of yours.”
Kared ran a hand through his short hair. “Okay, lets try it this way. I am looking for a competent fighter. As well as someone skilled in politics. You seem to fit. The job pays five hundred star-crowns to start and eight hundred more upon completion.” Star-crowns were the highest form of money, on any continent or in any kingdom. It took twenty-five king-foils to equal one star-crown. Fifty setrios, the most common kind of coin, were needed to make one king-foil.
Drennis didn't even blink. “Mercenaries are well paid, I see.”
Watching for some kind of reaction, Kared was intrigued. 'There is something very off about this guy ... He's a hell of a fighter but a magic user as well... Also the thought of all that money didn't produce any reaction at all... Dammit, now I'm really curious...' Coughing slightly to cover his confusion, he answered. “Actually, not really. The guy I took the job from is really strange. Must just be generous... But that's not important. I understand that you are not a mercenary, also that this is really out of the blue and probably pretty strange but, I'm kind of in a jam. I like the way you handled yourself, and I like the fact that you are taking the time to ask before just jumping in. But, really, what this offer comes down to is, I don't want to have to only rely on a guild member. If you do decide to help me out, you will only have to deal with me and the person from the guild, mostly me. So, what do you say? Kared extended his hand to Drennis.
Drennis reached up and pulled the elastic band from his messy hair. He thought over Kared's offer while he finger combed his shoulder length hair, his expression unreadable. He pulled it back into a neater ponytail, and offered his hand to Kared. “Very well then. I can accept your terms and your honesty. I am working on a few projects of my own, but it should not effect anything. However, I do reserve the right to quit at any time.”
Kared shook Drennis' hand. “You and me, both. I hate working with guild members. They always have something wrong with them. I'm meeting the guild member in Yunsi in three weeks. I'll be in the inn there. Won't be hard to miss as there is only one. Be there by Friday at three, all right?”
Drennis nodded. “It should pose no problem.”
Kared climbed back onto his horse. “See you then.” He rode off toward the west.