Chapter 1:

Alyssa's loss

The clanging of metal against metal rang in Alyssa's ears as she fought her way through the battlefield, along with screams of pain, anger and fear. Even though she had been a mercenary for a year, she could never get used to the sounds of war. In fact, for days after, their cries would ring in her head, and she would often get sick just remembering it.

But it was her job. And she was good at it.

Many said that being a mercenary was not a good job for women. In fact, Alyssa was the only woman mercenary that ever existed, and she could tell why. Dealing with the constant nightmares... only men would be stupid enough to do it.

So why was she one? Simple: she hadn't had an option at the time. And it certainly gave her freedom, though that was partially because most thought she was 'Al', a fifteen-year-old boy who had taken up the life of a mercenary. No one thought of her as Alyssa, the seventeen-year-old girl who had once been an innkeeper's daughter.

"Alyssa!" a man cried, and the woman stopped dead in her tracks. She didn't even notice when she got cut on the shoulder, and automatically blocked a strike aimed at her head with her sword. She hastily recovered and fought off her opponent, then raced toward the sound. She didn't even notice that her boots were soaked with blood.

Soon enough, she found herself in a place where bodies littered the ground, but no one was fighting there. There was a man standing in the middle, staring down at a body that appeared to still be breathing. A cry tore from her lips as the man raised his sword to strike the killing blow, and without thinking, she ran toward him and knocked the sword out of his hand. She placed her sword at his neck, not even noticing that the cap that had held her hair up had fallen off.

"Go," she said harshly. She didn't bother disguising her voice, for she was beyond caring. Perhaps the man noticed that, for he hastily picked up his sword and rushed back into the battle. Instantly, Alyssa dropped to her knees so she was kneeling by the body's side. "Jack," she murmured. Her eyes were locked on his bloodstained face, which was so familiar, and yet... now that it was so pale, he looked like a different man. His eyes were closed, and for a second, she thought he was dead. But then she saw his chest rising and falling slowly, and she started to search for wounds.

And then she wished she hadn't. For as soon as she had moved his cloak, she had seen a deep gash running from his shoulder to his waist. She swallowed hard and started to move his cloak back, then found her hands caught in his. He had opened his eyes, and he was now staring at her.

"Alyssa," he whispered. "You came."

"You called me," she whispered back. "I just wish I had come earlier..." To her surprise, a tear ran down her cheek and fell on his face. She hadn't cried for three years...

He raised his hand and placed it on her face. "Don't cry, Al. You know it was bound to happen sooner or later. Now I want you to honor my last request." Considering he knew the wound was fatal, he was quite calm.

She nodded. "Anything..."

He sighed and closed his eyes. "Don't let this happen to you Al. Give up being a mercenary...find something else. I don't want you to die-" he winced "-like this."

Alyssa hesitated, then nodded. "I'll try," she murmured. He nodded, and she watched helplessly as her friend, teacher and love died. And as she watched, she realized that she couldn't do what he had asked. But she didn't know why she couldn't. She simply sat there for a moment, then stuck her sword into the ground next to him, picked up his sword, and went back into the battle.