Chapter 1: INTRODUCTION

            My name is Andraea, daughter to the Duke of Kantigen who ruled the Dukedom of Kantigen on the northern region.  Father was also a merchant, and he traveled a lot.  He managed his own business and often handled agreements face-to-face to ensure that nobody swindled him.  This had made him seldom available around in the city, but the citizens had more or less grown accustomed to it.  All my half-brothers followed his footsteps, and they even became powerful allies of my father in the business world.  Mother – well, my blood mother whom father married a year after the death of his first wife was both a lovely duchess and a great wife, and although she (and me, of course) were different, we went along together quite well.

            Why different, you might ask?  Well, although father and my half-brothers were Terrans, mother was a Fel.  I was the only child from her, and my Terinzi appearance was often teased by other children when I followed my parents on a business trip.  It hurt me a lot when I was little, but my half-brothers were protective to me.  Father was, too, saying that they were just jealous because I was the daughter of a Duke.  He also always brought me something at the end of the trip to cheer me up.  Mother only smiled lovingly, as she knew how she was treated when she was young (she grew up in a small town where most of the residents were Terrans) and did her best to hold her emotions although I sometimes heard her crying at night.

            It hurt me when I discovered why she was crying, that one day I urged father to train me in the art of self-defense.  He was reluctant at first, but then agreed when mother backed me up.  I had a personal trainer – I was proud of that since none of my half-brothers were interested in it.  They were all interested in books and ledgers and of course, money.  Sometimes they would jokingly wrestle with me, but given my physical shape and skills, I outmatched them easily.  I was bigger and stronger than an average Terran, but to a Fel, I was just a frail young girl.  We wrestled a lot when we were little but stopped doing so when we grew more conscious of our body.

            Of course, as I grew up most of the boys who used to tease and bullied me back then started to look at me in a different perspective.  Some of them even tried to date me!  Even though I was now a young lady and a daughter of a Duke, I was still given the permission to roam the city as I pleased.  My parents knew that I was able to defend myself, but for my safety father had given me a dagger.  And although he thought I didn't know it, he had ordered one of his own bodyguards to secretly watch over me.  I lived a happy life then.

            When I was seventeen I followed my parents to a business trip to a continent across the oceans as usual.  My half-brothers were all married and had their own business to worry about, so I was left alone with my parents.  Many times mother tried to marry me off with some of the younger merchants, but I refused, saying that I wasn't ready to take the responsibility of a wife.  Father was also worried since I had no job and no love interest, and while he insisted I took over his business, I had no interest in doing so.  My Fel nature urged me to be free, but deep inside I know that eventually I had to do something in order to survive.  I longed to be a mercenary, and I had talked to mother about it one night.  She knew my desire (she was a Fel, remember?) and said that I should do what I wish to do.  Father however, was apparently deeply hurt about it.  He wasn't angry, but he didn't understand why I wanted to be a mercenary when I could have all the wealth I took over his business.  I told him that I wanted to work on my own so that what I owned wasn't something inherited.  He soon understood after several days thinking about the matter, but he forbade me to go before I reach twenty-one.  I wanted to argue, but I knew that it was for my own good.  A young girl like me could easily end up at some whore house.

            I kissed both my parents on the cheeks and bade them good night, knowing little that it was the last night I ever saw them.

            It all happened too fast.  I was just about to retire to my bed when I heard a loud crash at the door to our suite.  I then heard shouting, and then clashes of swords followed by several gunshots.  I panicked.  In all the years of my training I had never went up to a real fight since no one ever threatened me to a point of open fighting.  Now there was fighting just outside the closed door of my room, and all my bravery was washed away by my fear.

            By the time I gathered enough courage to pick up my sword (even so my hand was still shaking) and opened the door of my room, there was only silence.  I scanned through the suite and saw only broken furniture and windows, letting the cold wind blow through the drapes at the window.  Scattered at the floor were dead bodies of our servants and several others that I couldn't identify, and at a corner beside a rumpled curtain I saw two bodies I knew all too well –my parents.  I was thinking of screaming and running to their bodies at the same time when I saw someone standing not far from the battered remains of the door to our suite that stopped me dead in my tracks.

            It had the body of a Terran, yet there was something strange about him.  There was a hazy black mist surrounding him, and his skin was pitch black as if he was burnt by fire.  His black plate mail gleamed under the light yet was dulled by the darkened mist.  On his hand was a sword, its blade red with blood.  I couldn't see the color of the blade, but somehow I knew that it was black as the rest of him.  His face showed both anguish and hatred as he turned to me when he saw me.  And his eyes!  His eyes were red, burning with hatred.

            I tried, trembling, to defend myself when he walked towards me, but in my fear and anguish, I failed.  I almost fainted when he stood in front of me; he towered me and I didn't even dare to return his gaze.  My sword slipped and clattered at my feet, and I sank to the floor.  Although my heart broken at the death of my parents and I felt that I could cry, I found that it was hard for me to breathe with him near me.  I was now at his mercy, and almost stopped breathing when he slowly crouched and gazed at me.  The mist that surrounded him raged uncontrollably as his lips parted to utter something.  I was surprised when I saw his face changed from that of hatred to that of despair, and then he found his voice.

            "H-h-help m-me…" was all he could muster.

            I only stared at him wide-eyed before I slumped to the floor, fainted.

~ * ~

            When I came to, I was lying on my bed and several people surrounded me.  It was already morning and the golden streak of the sun hit me on the face.  A doctor was beside me, checking my pulse and taking my temperature to see if I was all right.  There was a damp cloth on my forehead, and I found myself shivering while my body was covered with sweat.  Both my half-brothers were at my left, looking at me with concern.  They came as soon as they heard about what had happened.  Like father, they were also here for business matters.  I met them several times in the city, but I only got the chance to throw some smiles or waved from afar.  I suddenly remembered the screams, the gunshots and the bodies of my parents and tried to get up.  The doctor held me down, and I knew then I was too weak to get up since even an aged Terran could force my body back down to the bed.  My head was pounding and felt like it was splitting apart.

            "My Lady, you need to rest," was all that the doctor said.

            "But…my parents…" I hesitantly spoke, slowly broke up to tears.

            "I'm sorry Andraea…there was nothing we could do," my eldest half-brother, Adrian said.  His face was calm and resolute; although in his eyes I saw the pain he so desperately tried to hide.  William, the second of my half-brother however, was sobbing.  He was sitting at the chair beside the bed, and his swollen eyes filled with tears.  He loved mother the most, and had been her favorite among us (even though I was her own child!).  He was married a few months back and always kept in close contact with mother through his letters.  All of us planned to have dinner together as a family before we all went back to our homes at the end of the business trip, but now it seemed that we would never had the chance to do so.

            It was too much for me, as I fell unconscious again.

~ * ~

            The few weeks after that was a blur.  The bodies of our parents were safely taken care of and would be taken back to Kantigen to be buried in the family graveyard, and words of his death were spread out.  A letter was sent to the kingdom of Lazaroth informing the king about it (as he was a close friend of father), and he sent us his condolences.  I was bedridden for a few days after the incident because of high fever, and my half-brothers took care of me until I was well enough to go back home.  The bodies of my parents were taken inside father's ship to be carried home (I boarded that ship to be close to my parents as possible), and along with Adrian and William in their own ships we sailed back to Kantigen.  The burial was short and discreet, and was only attended by close friends and relatives.  However, the whole city mourned for the loss of their beloved duke.  My half-brothers and their wives were with me all the times and consoled me when I broke down.  Although I had them, I felt lonely.  I had never been far from my parents, and that made me never apart from tears the days following their death.

            Adrian took care of father's business for the time being, and after he was officially appointed as the new Duke of Kantigen, the three of us sat down together in father's (now Adrian's since he was now the Duke) castle to discuss on our late parents' treasury.  They insisted I handled father's business since I knew better about it than they did, but while I would gladly take it should father himself gave it to me then, now I wasn't too sure.  We argued a bit, and in the end agreed that father's business was to be handled by William until I was ready.

            "But why don't you take it now?"  William objected.

            "I have something to do," I replied.  "I need to search for the murderer."

            "Are you sure, Andrea?  I mean, you're the only one who survived in the attack.  After all, if we haven't found you earlier before he stabbed you, you would have been dead by now.  He's a monster, Andraea.  I think you should know that by now."  It was all Adrian to say that.  He had always been protective to me since I was a child.

            "I know…but he said something before I fainted.  He asked me…he asked me to help him," I replied, my tail idly wagged behind me.

            "What?  Be serious, Andraea.  That monster killed everyone, and would kill you too if we arrived a little late that night.  It's probably all a trap to lure you to him," William replied.

            I stood up.  "If I said I'm going, then I'm going.  Don't even think to try to stop me.  So there," I said, and stomped to my room.

            Adrian came to me later that afternoon saying that if I needed anything, he would gladly be of help.  I told him that I was okay by my own.  From his eyes, I could see that he wanted me to stay, but he knew that even if he voiced it out I would never agree.  I was known in the family as the thickheaded one, and that was one reason why my late parents let me do whatever I pleased as long as it didn't endanger my safety.  It was difficult now however, because this time I traveled without any directions, and I might not be back for a long time – perhaps I wouldn't be back at all.  However to ease my brothers' heart I promised to send Adrian a letter every month so that they knew of my well-being.

            I set out to the harbor a week later accompanied by my brothers, and again set out to the foreign land where my parents had been killed…and where the murderer ran loose.  I couldn't save my parents, but I was determined to stop him from killing anyone else.  The journey was tiresome, and soon I once again found myself at the place where it all began.  I had ample money for journey, and Adrian promised to send me some money whenever I need it.  I wasn't thinking of burdening him to take care of me though, and this would be the best time to start chasing my dream of becoming a mercenary.

            So here I was in Balsinor, almost a year after that tragic incident.  At first, I got a lead on the killer and followed his steps.  I always came too late and only found destruction lay in front of me.  That was also the time when I started my career as a mercenary by helping to rebuilt parts of a town he had ravaged (with a price, of course).  After some time I lost track of him, and my taste for revenge soon faded.  I finally accepted the fate bestowed upon me, and the death of my parents soon became just a fleeting memory.  While I still kept contact with my brothers and told them about it, they were however surprised knowing that I was now a mercenary.  I told them that it was my dream all along and they soon understood.  I didn't care anymore of chasing the killer, and I didn't know if I would kill him if I found him although there was a hefty bounty for his head.  Although tempting, I learnt that killing someone out of greed or hatred only made me no better than him.