Chapter 1: Three Years Later

The smoky tavern was filled with mercenaries, guards and low-life hire-swords. Sitting in a dim corner under a smoking torch was Wynn, one of the few females in the tavern and the only one who wasn't a prostitute.

Three years had wrought quite a change in the young woman. Her once waist length black hair had been cut off and buried with Rohanna and now it was cropped close to her head like a man's. The golden eyes once glowing with good-humour had turned hard and cold. The mouth that used to constantly quirk into a smile now wore a perpetual frown. The legs once surrounded by a fan of skirts now wore tight-fitting pants. The only thing that hadn't changed was the rapier which still hung over her right hip. The scar on her right arm that developed from the scratch she'd ignored treating was covered by the long-sleeved shirt she wore. Braewyn had died with Rohanna. In her place was Wynn, a mercenary, body-guard and whatever other job that required a sword she was paid to do.

Epis too had changed. N one had expected the loss of their Guardian to affect them as much as it had. No longer was it one of the safest places to live. Now it was nothing more then a city of cut throats, bandits and villains of all types. There were very few of the original inhabitants left there. Braewyn had kept her word and abandoned the city to its fate.

Rohanna's death had signalled the end of Epis, as Braewyn had predicted, and the beginning of the Guardian legend, which she had not. It was a well known fact that another girl existed who could create the Guardian spell and there were many people interested in possessing the spell and by default the girl. Many people had either put out bounties or hired people to find Braewyn but all failed. No one connected the happy Braewyn with the cold Wynn.

"Heard a new bounty hunter's sniffing around." One of the merchant guards remarked to his companions.

"What's he looking for?"

"Rumour has it he's looking for the Guardian girl."

"Her? She's a myth. I'll admit Epis once had a Guardian but there's not another one or someone would have found her by now!"

"Not if she knew they were looking for her. Then she could hide out."

"I think you've been drinking too long!" This comment sparked a debate on who had drunk the most and Wynn lost interest in the conversation.

She was deciding whether or not it was worth it to stay when the door opened and a stranger walked in. Wynn knew he was a recent addition to the city because all the hire-swords in the city frequented the Rusty Blade and she'd never seen him before. This man was of much the same type as the others already here. He was perhaps a little leaner, younger and had fewer scars, but his clothes and sword marked him as a mercenary of some type.

The stranger looked around and seemed dismayed. It was easy enough to tell why. All the tables were packed. The Rusty Blade was famous. However he soon spotted Wynn and the table that was empty but for herself. She didn't like company and encouraged people to keep their distance.

Normally Wynn would have ignored the newcomer but he walked over and asked. "Is anyone sitting here?"

Wynn scowled at him. When he didn't leave, she snorted. "No."

"Then may I join you? Everywhere else is full." The tavern had fallen silent as many people realized that someone was actually talking to Wynn. Generally the result of this was Wynn physically throwing the offender out on their ear. The patrons of the Rusty Blade were anticipating a first-class show. However the young man's politeness reminded Wynn of Epis and the time when she'd always been treated with friendly respect so the crowd was disappointed.

"Fine." She said, pushing the thoughts of the past away. Epis was no longer her home and the people in it were gone just like Rohanna. A moment of silence followed as everyone stared at her in shock. Wynn glared at them all and hurriedly conversations were resumed, lest she become really annoyed.

"What's your name?" The newcomer asked, not noticing the crowd's abnormal silence.

"Wynn." She grunted taking another swig of ale.

"I'm Jinskith, but please just call me Jin."

Wynn said nothing, watching two men start an arm-wrestling contest on the other side of the room.

"So what do you do?"

Wynn rolled her eyes and turned back to her unwanted companion. "Whatever pays."

"Really? Is it hard? I mean not many girls decide to be hire-swords."

"Not many men are stupid enough to sit down with me and start questioning me. Or didn't you wonder why when it's so crowded there's no one but me at this table?" She snapped, starting to get annoyed with this idiot.

Jin flushed. "I wondered but I didn't feel like going up to a bunch of strangers and asking that kind of question."

"Then why are you here asking a stranger about what they do? A stranger sitting in a tavern well known to be the haunt of mercenaries?" Jin's flush deepened as Wynn continued. "You must have been dropped on your head as a child. Repeatedly."

"I was just wondering." Jin muttered sullenly.

"Then go wonder somewhere else. You're starting to bother me." Wynn turned her attention away from the boy and began listening to see if there was any news she had yet to hear. When she turned back to take another drink she was irritated to see Jin was still sitting there.

"I told you to go away."

Jin wasn't listening so intent was he on staring behind her, eyes wide and face pale. Once again the tavern was silent.

Wynn didn't even bother to turn around. "Get the fuck away from me." She snapped.

"Aw come on now sweet-'eart. That's no way to be speakin' to a man who's gone and professed his love for ya, now is it?" The giant rumbled as he slid arms around her, chair and all.

Moving lightning quick, Wynn drew her blade and pressed the tip to his throat. "Don't touch me Achon."

Laughing, the shaggy-haired man released her and took a step backwards, moving out of her sword's reach. "Now, now, there love, that's not bein' real friendly like. I just wanted to make sure ya knew how I feel. You've got me all jealous here, sittin' with another man and all. It's only natural I'd want to make it clear that you're with me."

"I am not with you and never have been. And I certainly haven't encouraged the boy to spend any amount of time with me. So why don't you take your goons with you and leave? You're starting to annoy me."

"Ah now you've hurt me darlin'. I think I'm goin' to have to take your little friend outside with us if we're leavin' and all. I want to have a nice little chat with him." Achon said with a grin that showed all his yellowed teeth.

"No. You'll leave him be. He's an idiot and an annoyance but he's harmless. Besides you are the greater annoyance and allowing you take him out back to beat him would only confirm in your own mind that I somehow belong to you, an impression I have been attempting to correct for far too long. Now leave before I force you to." Wynn said, golden eyes almost glowing with the force of her words as she held Achon's gaze. The big man was the first to look away, unable to take the intensity of that metallic stare.

"You're a hard one, love. I'll leave because ya asked me to but I'm tellin' you ya'd better not start messin' around on me. I'm likely to get jealous and stop bein' as patient as I have been."

Before Wynn could reply, Achon and his two slinking friends were out the door, leaving her alone with Jin. Hastily conversations were restarted for the second time that night and Wynn was forced to deal with her unwanted companion. "If you were planning to stay long in the city I would rethink that idea. Achon is nothing if not persistent. He'll leave you alone today but after that I can make no guarantees. Stay away from me and stay away from this place and you may be alright to stay."

"Who was that?" Jin asked, still staring at the door where he'd gotten his last glimpse of the giant.

Wynn rolled her eyes. "Achon. A mercenary. Stay away from him if you want to keep yourself in one piece. He's dangerous."

"Is he really that strong?"

"Yes. Now since you seem incapable of leaving, I will leave you. Do not follow if you value your skin. Achon will have watchers about to see if I spoke truly."

Jin nodded absently. Shaking her head, Wynn stood, seemingly surprising the boy. "Where are you going?"

Wynn bit back a cry of frustration and anger. "I'm leaving." She hissed, whirling about and striding right out of the tavern.

"Why?" Jin asked, running after her.

This time Wynn really did yell. "Have you been listening to a single word I've said?"

Jin flushed. "Yes. I just missed some of it."

That was all Wynn could put up with. She yanked her sword out and pressed the tip to Jin's throat hard enough to draw a drop of blood, just as she'd done to Achon. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't get rid of you right now and save myself future headaches." She hissed.