A/N: Wow, so many reviews, more than I'm used to, and far more in depth as well. Uhm, to address them...

The carnage, yes, gruesome I suppose although I know I could have done better. People have different views on what is acceptable or not, and I found that to be rather tame. I wanted to make sure the concept of what happened and what was found was understood. I apologize if you disliked it. (And yes, implode, explode... Dunno which, so long as body parts flew :P)

Thank you for pointing out the flaws in repetition, tense, etc... I'll go back and fix it, eventually, haha. I do appreciate it, though.

As for dialogue, erm, I understand it's rough, but something I love doing when I read books is to see the accents and voice them out loud. They may be hard to read, but they give life to the characters. Sometimes it is hard to understand, even in person, what a person has said, and that's what I was going for with the people in this story.

I'm sorry you couldn't get into Akemi's head, Liviania, however, as it was the first chapter... You aren't meant to know everything about him yet. You've just met him, and I don't want to have it from any set persons point of view. You'll learn more... you just have to be patient.

I think that's the gist of it... Moving on. I know it's been awhile since I first posted, however, I've been busy with school and packing to move cross country, and working on two other stories of mine (one which is posted at as it's a WoW fanfic . ;. The other isn't public atm, sorry.) However, I finally sat down and got out the second (actual) chapter. It deviated slightly from my original intention, but it'll work out well, I think. Hopefully. Oh, and Iara's name starts with an 'i', not an 'L' .

Anyways, here it is.

Read. Review. Enjoy.

Chapter 2 – Thieves and Magic

Aisha slowly took a tentative step down the hall, eyes searching for traps or wards. A flash caught her eye, and she froze, murmuring a spell. A click announced the deactivation of the spell, along the wall where she'd gotten too close. She used her hand to make the symbols, muttering more magical words, sending her magic out to uncover the hidden traps waiting for them. Locating them along the hall, one on the ceiling, another on the floor between the doors, she continued working the magic and two more clicks and the hall was safe.

"I don't think I've seen many thieves that used magic to disarm traps," Akemi said behind her. She turned and flashed him a grin.

"Not many can. Don't think I can't disarm without magic, either, 'cause I can. It's just a lot easier using the magic I was born with. Or, as our oh-so-wonderful priests would tell us, 'the magic the Gods were kind enough to bless us with in order for us to assist our fellow man'," she said before spitting. Akemi raised an eyebrow; he knew most people that lived in Eeryr, the land in the north, were often considered a godless people, as most were hardly benefited by the temples. Still, there was more hatred in her tone than normal.

Turning towards the left door, her gloved hand carefully hovered over it as she felt for more traps to keep them out. She saw the faint, wavy spiderweb in the air above the door, forming the ward, and began bending the magic to her will. The water mage had used air magic, part of her specialty, and she had the upper hand with her natural affinity towards it. The magic easily did as she asked, and the door was safe. Slowly, she pushed it open.

Inside was a workroom. Several bookshelves lined one wall, thick, leather bound tomes with spidery writing and powerful words. A desk was on their left, near the wall they were at, with scrolls and papers spread out, and a quill with a spilled inkwell marring an otherwise white page. On the other side, across from the desk, was a table with vials and potions more carefully stored, several flasks holding all sorts of liquid. Some red and thick, green and bubbling, or even a thin, blue-gray one.

It was what stood towards the center of the room, however, that caught both of their attention. A table, and a young woman strapped to it. Silky, long, cerulean blue hair fell from her head and dangled off the table, and her tall, slender form was fair, and unconscious. Thick, black leather straps held her wrists and ankles to the table, and visible runes were all over the table. One had even been written on her forehead in some dark material.

Akemi wanted nothing more than to dart into the room and see to the woman, who looked ill and was shivering just slightly with her lack of clothing. Sense and instinct, however, held him back, as did Aisha's outstretched arm, barring the doorway. She was staring wide-eyed at the woman, and he saw the same desire to help, the same outrage and horror, in her amber eyes. They both knew, however, that there could be more traps, more wards, to thwart their entrance.

Aisha beckoned for him to back up, and she began, as before, searching through the room, for signs of a trap. Moments passed, and she smirked. The mage, foolish and arrogant like all his kind, had thought the wards on the door to be enough, and had none inside the room. To be sure, she stepped inside and tiptoed around the room. No, nothing, not another trace of ward, trap, or spell to keep out intruders. The only magic was from the vials, the books, and...

"The woman," Akemi said as he stepped into the room, eyes focused on the female. He walked towards her, noting the fine features of her face, the slender perfection of her body. She was perfect, too perfect to be real. Yet, as he held a hand over her, he could feel the warmth, see her chest rise and fall. The magic that emanated from her both fascinated and worried him; even powerful mages rarely radiated such power, unless they were raw, young, untrained, or were unleashing great and terrible magics.

"That rune, Akemi. Do you recognize it?" Aisha asked as she leaned over the woman, looking at her forehead. She hesitantly touched the mark, feeling the dried substance. It was rust-colored, and she suspected it to be blood. Akemi examined it, and shook his head.

"Runes are not my specialty, nor are many magics. Do you know it?" Aisha shook her head as well, tracing the rune in the air. A spark and a fizzing of magic, and she jumped back.

"N-no, I don't. I know runes somewhat, but this... this looks like what the priests carve in the temple, ain't it? Something to do with the Old Ones?" she asked. Akemi frowned in thought. The Old Ones were worshiped and idolized by priest and mage alike, as both the teacher of magic and the savior of their people. Runes belonged to them, were their language, and the older ones such as this were known only to those that studied it. Or, as Aisha had suggested, priests. How curious.

Aisha looked out of the room, at the other door, then at Akemi. "This room seems safe. You look around, I'm going to check on the other room, 'k?" she asked. He nodded and went over to the desk. He saw as she left the room, and heard her doing her work at the other door. He bent over the papers, lifting them and reading. Scrolls covered in runes, some old and barely legible, some newly written. Several pages of research that he didn't understand past the initial writings on water magic. And a letter, written in the symbol-using Mrethil language, from the land to the east. Now that was interesting, as Mrethil was allied with Cador, and hated these lands of Eeryr.

He heard a door opening, and Aisha peeked in. "Just me, opened the door. I'm gonna explore, so stay put," she said before darting off again. He shook his head, and picked up the letter to read it. He only had a small understanding of the language, even coming from Cador as he had, but it was enough to read some parts. Something about a test, an idea, a theory. Power. That woman, on the table, although they referred to her as a thing, not a person. Whoever had written this had signed with a rune rather than a name, and the same was for who it was addressed to.

Setting down the letter, he debated what to do with the documents on the desk.

Aisha was in heaven as she stared around the room she had entered. A personal room, a bedroom, with a thick gold and blue rug on the floor, intricately woven. A bed of some rich, dark wood, canopied and covered in gold drapes and blue silky bedding. A dresser of similar wood was on one side, with a low table on the other. Upon the dresser were many trinkets, golden boxes, porcelain figurines gilded and jeweled, and a tray of jewelry. On the table, a set of plates, goblets, and utensils, all silver and gold. Cushions were at the low table, blue with gold cord. Even the walls and ceiling were draped in gold and blue cloth, velvet by the feel. How extravagantly decorated the room was, how rich the mage must be!

She was cautious, of course, to enter the room. It was hurried, though, as she picked up a figurine, marveling at the detail and value of the fine crafted wolf, with sapphire eyes and gold fangs and claws. She sat it down and picked up a pendant, fine gold chain and tear-drop pale blue stone, one she wasn't familiar with. A gold box with a tiny lock called to her, and she leaned down to examine it. Oh, how sure she was that she could pick the lock, if she had the time to sit and work at it. The intricate, finely engraved art of the box amazed her and she grinned ecstatically as she set it down and looked around the room.

Oh, such a treasure trove this was, and the mage had taken more gold than needed from the townspeople. Surely it was her duty to liberate him from these extravagant prizes, to take them from this place and sell them to others. Or keep, as a pair of gold earrings caught her attention. Simple, yet elegant and how it would curl around the top of her ear, descend to pierce her ear from behind, and from there, dangle a piece of amber. The earrings called to her, and she coveted them, instantly taking them and slipping them into a pocket. Surely they wouldn't be missed, and Akemi couldn't deny her this, it would be so unfair of him to. Better he not know...

He decided to copy the letter. While he distrusted magic and knew few workings of it consciously, there was one spell he had learned from a mage in Cador, and that was to copy documents. It had been useful when copying notes for apprentices, when he'd worked for the mage temporarily. He slipped a clean piece of paper from the desk, picked up the quill, and dipped it into the pool of ink. Touching it first to the letter, he muttered the words to the spell, then tapped the tip to the new paper. Words and symbols began to appear, writing themselves onto the page, mimicking almost perfectly the letter. Once it had finished, he set the quill down and wrapped up the new letter, slipping it into his shirt.

Deciding to see how Aisha was doing, he left the room and entered the bedroom. He gazed around in distaste at the gross display of wealth, then at his companion as she moved towards the table. He went to the desk and opened the drawers, hoping for something of use. Only silks, velvets, and satins lay in them, even when he lifted the clothing to see beneath. Just clothes, nothing of value to him. Closing the drawers again, he picked up the wolf figurine, and frowned. "I didn't think that our friend would worship the moons here," he commented. Aisha looked up, frowning.

"Eh?" she asked. He pointed to the small moon on the wolf's forehead.

"The Wolf Moon, for the hunting season. I'm surprised he has one of the howling wolves, as they usually are only in the homes of believers... And those wishing for luck in hunting," he explained as he set it back down. She shrugged as she examined the silverware.

"Pro'ly was a gift, and he keeps it 'cause its shiny," she said, flashing a grin. "Surprised these people actually worship gods... rare for anyone here anymore. Then again, they ain' the Old Ones, so makes some sense" she mused, then louder, "Akemi, I can take some stuff, can't I? You're payin' me nice and all, but this is all too much to resist," she pleaded. He looked around.

"Long as it isn't noticeable... I'd say, sure. He doesn't need all of this," he said with a scowl. She smiled happily and deposited a set of the golden silverware into a pocket. Moving about the room, she also chose to collect the box, as there were several larger ones, the wolf figurine, and a few rings. She was debating over a silk shirt when they both heard a gasp and a moan from the other room.

Straightening up, they crept towards the workroom. The woman was moving, her head slowly looking about and she tugged weakly at the restraints. They were still deciding whether to help when she spoke up.

"Please... I know that someone is there, and that you are neither Abas nor associated with him. Help me..." she begged, her voice soft, quiet, with an undercurrent of strength. Aisha swiftly moved forward, reaching to unclasp the straps. She noted, now that the girls eyes were open, that they reminded her of water; a mix of gray, blue, and green. They were deep, and rather than fear or pain, they were deep, calm, patient. Once freed, she sat up and turned to look at Akemi, who was in the doorway. She didn't speak, merely gazed at him.

"Who are you?" Aisha asked. Before allowing the woman to answer, she rephrased; "What are you, actually, works too." The woman looked at her and slid off the table, her movements fluid and graceful.

"You may call me Iara, and I do not believe now is the appropriate time to discuss what I am. It is rather... complicated. Those such as yourself would find it difficult to comprehend, and I am fear Abas may return soon," she warned. Aisha wasn't about to agree, but Akemi quickly nodded.

"Yes, we must leave, although I don't think we found what we were looking for..." he said as he went into the bedroom and searched through the dresser. In a bottom drawer was a dress and other clothing, small and meant more for a woman than a man; he suspected the mage had taken Iara's clothing and placed them here. Returning, he handed them to her and watched as she dressed into the velvet blue dress, pulling the hood attached over her head. She also put on a silver and sapphire moon pendant, and a ring of some pale stone on her finger. A belt went around her waist, and sandals under her feet. Once dressed, she looked at him.

"What were you searching for, sir?" she asked.

"The source of the water the mage is using. It isn't natural, but that's all I know for sure," he said. She smiled, and he noticed that the smile was sad and tired.

"I can answer that for you, later. His notes, I believe, would also do you well..." she said, pointing to the desk. He shook his head.

"He'd notice them missing." She laughed.

"Do you not think that he will notice that I am gone, more than the notes?" she asked. He looked sheepish, and retrieved the notes. Aisha was still looking suspiciously at the woman now, disliking that she kept what she was a secret. Still, now was not the time for such questions; they needed to leave. They had spent enough time here.

Carefully creeping out the hall, after Aisha closed the doors, they approached the stairs. Their presence would be noted, both for Iara's disappearance, and that Aisha couldn't fully reapply the wards. It wouldn't matter; if they were lucky, they wouldn't be suspected. Aisha realized that, much to her annoyance, Iara stood back and made no attempt to crouch down or hide at all, whereas, as they crept down the hall, even Akemi was keeping low, just in case.

A door downstairs opened, and they could hear a loud voice giving orders. Aisha quickly led them to the room they had used to enter, and closed the door in time to hear footsteps again walk the hall. There was only one pair this time, and they were swift, impatient. As they ascended the stairs down the hall, another pair of footsteps, hurrying as well, followed, and a voice called to the first person. Aisha recognized the voice, the melodic one from before, and it sounded annoyed now.

Akemi was at the window opening it and peering down. No guards, and it looked safe. He motioned Aisha over, and she tied the rope so as they could descend. She went first, cautiously dropping the last few feet to the group and looking around. The wards were still off, good. She gestured for Iara and then Akemi to descend, and she led them back to the wall. Rope still there, thin and bland enough not to have been noticed. Now Akemi went up first, then Iara, lastly Aisha, and as she reached the top and tossed the rope over the other side, she eyed the front of the estate while they went down to safety. The guards looked flustered, and she could just see a coach parked outside. A guest, then, had been what had caused the chaos.

Once safely on the other side, they returned to the tavern. Still busy, still packed and loud, they went to a table. Better to be seen and assumed there for awhile than to have been hiding away in the room. Iara's hood covered her hair and face, and other patrons in the room wore similar enough clothing for her to not stand out. Aisha waved to the harried barmaid, and leaned to Iara.

"Ok, woman, time to answer. What are you?" she asked. Akemi looked at her as well, waiting for an answer.

"I suppose you can assume that I am a mage, one especially adept with water," she answered. Akemi shook his head.

"I don't doubt that you're a mage. But you're not mortal," he stated simply. The barmaid approached and Iara refrained from answering as they ordered food and drink. Once uninterrupted, she sat back in silence for several long minutes, while Aisha scanned the tavern casually, and Akemi kept focus on her and one hand on the silver flute in his possession.

"You are rather observant, sir. I am not mortal, but what I truly am is not for mortal minds to know. However, in light of your aid, I suppose that telling you some things is suitable." Again, silence, as she thought how to explain herself. "Immortal, spirit-being, attuned and connected with the elements. Does that work as answer?" she asked. Akemi looked taken aback, and Aisha frowned in confusion.

"Spirit-being? What is that? You seem pretty solid to me, woman," she said. Iara merely smiled.

"Not a spirit... but one of the spiritual, immortal beings that walk the world... am I right, Iara? Much like the Old Ones were said to be?" Akemi asked. Iara nodded.

"That is a close answer, yes. Enough so that you understand."

"If you're immortal and powerful, why were you held captive?" Aisha demanded. Iara shrugged.

"Immortal does not mean omnipotent, girl. While I have great powers, I can be tricked, trapped, and manipulated just as any mortal can," she replied.

Akemi nodded slowly, leaning back as he thought this new information through. He'd heard that such beings walked the world, but in their lands, both in Cador and Eeryr, such legends hadn't been heard of in ages. And they were closed off from much of the outside world, where he knew greater, more powerful things existed.

The food arrived, and Aisha dived into her plate. Warm, soft bread, thick, juicy strips of meat, even a chunk of cheese to nibble on. The mug of ale she drank from put the things she had just learned in the back of her mind; let smarter people than her worry over the presence of some element-wielding, immortal being, and she'd stick to thieving, thanks. Akemi ate more slowly, and noticed that Iara barely touched the food.

"Something wrong, lady Iara?" he asked. She smiled politely.

"No, I merely do not get as hungry, and I have more worries than an empty stomach to think over," she replied. Aisha piped up, speaking around a mouthful of food.

"Jus' dring, 'ara. Dinkh 'bou all da' stuv latah." Iara raised her eyebrows at Aisha, but nodded and reached for the mug of ale, sniffing it carefully before drinking. She coughed and spit the drink back into the mug, looking at it distastefully.

"Ugh, it is vile! You drink this willingly?" she asked as Aisha laughed and Akemi snorted, covering his mouth.

"Ya, ya get used to it, Iara," Aisha answered as she took a drink to rinse her mouth. Iara shook her head and more hesitantly took a drink, her features set into a scowl.

"Lady Iara, may I ask how Abas was getting water?" Akemi asked. Iara gladly set the wretched drink down and looked at him.

"When I say I was connected to the elements, I mean it. Specifically, water, if you couldn't tell from my appearance. I am attuned enough to it that my powers draw directly from the element of water itself. As such... Abas has been using my power to first drain water from the region, and then sell it back to the people. It has, unfortunately, caused the effect I am sure you noticed in the climate."

Akemi nodded, as he had indeed noticed the heat. This was intriguing, that this female's powers could be used as such. It also infuriated him, and to a lesser, more drunken way, Aisha, that the dryness of the region had been caused by the mage, and for a mere profit. "Just for money... pompous idiot," he muttered. Iara shook her head.

"It wasn't just for the money, friend. It was for the research, and for... " she hesitated, trailing off. Akemi leaned forward and motioned for her to continue; she sighed.

"There is another mage, one that he defers to. It was this mage that captured me, and that handed me over to Abas. He was told to... use me and see what could be done with my possession," she said, looking away. Her voice became bitter, angry, and her eyes changed to a stormy gray. "Acting as if I were some artifact, rather than an actual person, a real soul. But I suppose it should be expected with such people..."

"Mage... Who is this other mage, lady Iara?" Akemi asked urgently. She shook her head.

"I do not know. I cannot remember a name or even a face... Only a presence. Dark, powerful, greedy."

He sat back again, deep in thought now. They ate, and the barmaid came to take away the plates and refill their mugs. He waited until she had left before asking, "Iara, can you fix what happened here?" She shook her head.

"Were I to bring rain, it would take it from somewhere else and cause a negative effect. However, with the elements allowed to act naturally, a balance should get restored soon enough. I will have to leave, however, in order to allow the water-element to be used to its own presence, not mine." He nodded, then turned as the door of the tavern was thrust open.

A man, dressed richly in a gold and blue cape, with similarly made robes and boots, stood in the doorway. His hair was blond and styled fashionably, at odds with the course atmosphere of the tavern. At his back were two tall, muscled guards, and another man, dressed in black, red, and gold, with messy long, black hair. He scanned the bar, and Iara turned her head down towards her mug as Aisha leaned back in her chair, balancing it on the two rear legs. Akemi watched out of the corner of his eye, but decided not to attract too much attention by seeming too interested.

The guards were shoving their way through the bar, grabbing seemingly random people and pushing them towards the first man, who would shake his head. They'd get thrown back into the crowd, and the guards continued. There were objections, which were quickly met with a hand on a sword, and most people settled down and backed off; no one messed with the guards. They made their way towards the bartender, who looked at both men and questioned them. Akemi and Aisha were too far away to hear, but the blue-dressed man looked angry as he replied, and fired a question of his own. The bartender shrugged and gestured at the packed room; whoever they were looking for were lost among the crowd, and he'd seen no one coming or going.

The guards continued to move through the crowd, looking through people and roughly throwing back hoods. Iara's fair skin went even paler as she realized her hood wouldn't hide her. Aisha reached over, grinning, and dipped her finger into the juice from the meat. She then reached and clumsily wrote a rune on Iara's face, much to her disgust, and then murmured a word; there was a soft whispering by Iara's ear, and Akemi stared in shock at her face, which was now different. Her hair was now a blue-black rather than outright blue, her face was rounder and freckled, and her eyes were darker, a blue, almost purple color. Even the skin on her face seemed darker, tanned and brown.

"What did you do?" he asked, looking at Aisha. She shrugged and downed her ale.

"Illusion spell, real simple. One o' tha disguises I usually take on, actually. Should hold for a few minutes, long enough for them to search," she replied, grinning drunkedly. Akemi's respect for the thief-mage grew, and he vowed to give her more gold for her assistance.

The guards came over and shoved Aisha's mug away from her and to the ground as they pulled her into their view. She growled and her knee came up and collided with the man's groin. He howled and doubled over in pain, letting her go. The other guard drew his sword, only to have it blocked by a silver sword in the hands of Akemi. Aisha glared at the guards.

"Ya bloody apes, I was drinking that! How dare you spill it all over tha floor, ya clumsy louts!" she shrieked, drawing attention to the group. Akemi winced as he saw the two rich-looking men approach.

"Woman, with the hood, down please," the blue-dressed man ordered. Hesitantly, she lowered the hood and looked at him. He scowled and slapped the injured guard. "Fools, causing a ruckus over the wrong people! Let's go, they must have left town," he said. Aisha recognized the voice as one more accustomed to calmer tones, one normally melodic, but was too angry about the guards and her ale to care.

"An' what about my drink? Ya ain't going to pay for it, are ya, even though tis their fault, and they serve you," she said, stamping her foot angrily. The red-dressed man stepped forward and handed her coin.

"Please, milady... Worry not, here is payment. My deepest apologies," he said, smiling charmingly and bowing to her. Suddenly flushing a deep crimson, she accepted the coin and sat down, head bowed. Turning, the man looked at the sword Akemi still held. "An enchanting sword, my good sir... Where did you come by it?" he asked casually. Akemi pulled it back and held it loosely at his side.

"Man I was apprenticed to, sir. Gave it to me for workin' for 'em, it serves me good, it does," he said, dropping his voice to the drawling, crude speech of the locals. The man nodded.

"I see. Does it have special characteristics?" Smiling, he continued, "You see, I collect weapons, and that one fascinates me." Akemi shrugged and purposefully looked dumbfounded

"Well, I dunno, sir. Just a sword, ain't it? Value, given I liked the man well 'nough. Dun do nothing weird, far as I know," he remarked.

"Hm, I see. Well then, would you perhaps sell it to me?" the man asked. Akemi shook his head.

"No, sir. It's a good 'nough weapon when I needs one, and likes I said, I liked the man, and 'twas a gift. Couldn't part with it," he said, tightening his grip slightly. The man smiled, one corner of his mouth lifting into an almost smirk, and he nodded.

"Yes, I see. Well then, I apologize for the inconvenience," he said, before bowing and walking out to join his comrade.

Sitting back down, Akemi ran a hand over the sword and it shifted into the flute he usually carried. Aisha looked at it, mouth agape.

"'Kemi, what kinda sword is that?" she asked. He smiled sheepishly.

"I'll be damned if I know, as I said, it was a gift," he said. Aisha leaned forward to look at it, marveling at the magic, before looking at Iara.

"Disguise should vanish in a moment, Iara," she said. Looking back at Akemi, she held out a hand. "Mmk, 'Kemi. I helped ya get in, ya found out whatcha wanted, and ya even got this woman to travel with now. Ya owe me at least 5 gold pieces," she reminded him. He reached into a pouch and began counting out the gold.

"If you're sure you wish to part ways, Aisha. I rather enjoyed working with you, truth be told... Here, 8 pieces of gold. You helped me quite well, and are a remarkable woman," he said as he handed her to money. She counted it herself, twice to be sure, before pocketing it safely away.

"Ya, you ain't a bad guy to work with, Akemi, but I like working by meself, 'k?" she said. He nodded.

"Well then, I suppose we are done working together, Aisha," he trailed off as Iara pulled her hood back on.

"Actually, I was wondering if you would be willing to do some work for me," she said. He raised an eyebrow, and looked at Aisha, who was looking warily at Iara.

"I feel sorry for what happened to ya, Iara, but I don't work for free. You don't have any gold on you, so I know ya can't pay," she said doubtfully. Iara smiled and reached into her dress, pulling out a deck of cards.

"How true, but these cards weren't there either, were they, Akemi?" she asked. He shook his head, brow furrowed. "I have several hiding places in my possessions, and money is one of them," she said as she selected cards from the deck and laid them out. Akemi leaned forward and saw a girl floating in mid-air, a young man surrounded by trees, and a boy holding flames on the cards. More images were on the others, magic-users, a cleric, a thief, a vagabond. Some dark image, a forest, and a skull. Aisha sneered at the deck.

"Fortune telling, Iara? Silly tricks is all it is," she said. A secret smile from Iara.

"If you believe so, Aisha. Akemi, if you will work for me..." she asked. He hesitated, then nodded.

"If you need assistance, then sure... Whatever is behind this imbalance needs to be corrected. I'm... I'm not a hero, lady Iara, but I shall try to help, until we can find those far better suited for this type of work than myself," he said. She reached into her dress again, and pulled out a small sack of coins. Aisha's eyes lit up as she saw it.

"Thank you, Akemi, but remember that heroes are born and chosen often from those we least expect. You may not think yourself fit to be savior, but the fates often chose otherwise." Looking down at the cards, she studied them. "South, my friend. I need you south; my sister and brothers in spirit have been separated from me, and that is the direction they were taken."

Aisha leaned forward and grabbed the sack of coins, feeling its weight, before grinning. "Ah, hero or not, Iara, you pay me this, and I'll gladly do whatever work you ask for," she said. Akemi looked more worried now.

"South. The crossroads are south..."