Shivering and wrapping the cloak tighter around my body I looked around, awestruck at the condition of the field in which I stood. What happened? Surely not a single man could have caused this much damage; the report I got from Third Company must be mistaken. Blowing a slight stream of fire into my ungloved hands to warm them my left hand moved to the hilt of the sword at my side.

It was a new sword, only had it seen battle once and even then it was more of a skirmish; the raiding bandits perished far to fast. With a plain leather sheath, black as was most of my clothing and armor, nobody ever guessed that my longsword was a piece of work that would cost most people their homes to buy.

The hilt alone looked simple enough, though in my personal grip power radiated through it; a blessing of the dragons that had used their remaining life to bless it—and allow me to use their arcane magick. It had a normal grip, though it never fell from my hand—again a blessing of the magick that flowed from the hilt into my body connecting us as one.

The blade was far from ordinary, though it might have looked so at a glance it came from the very steel that the most powerful magi made their daggers with for close combat. Like the hilt it had great magickal powers, though my blade could penetrate nearly any armor—only the strongest magick blessings on a warrior's armor could halt it successfully to keep a warrior alive.

Shivering once more I growled quietly under my breathe and wrapped the cloak tighter around my body. Why in the Void must it be so cold wherever we go these days? If I do not perish in a battle surely the Lady will have me from a frozen and snowy grave. Curse the Commander for sending me and my people into this mess when he is aware of my intolerance. Damn magi purebloods!

"Kalliana, my beloved, are you well? We can tell all the way from the trees that you are shivering. Has your body not yet grown accustomed to the cold of this winter?"

"No Markus, it has not but thank you for your concern. Though I must wonder how many times you continue to call me 'your beloved' or other names of such nature when you know I have no interest in romantic feelings. My focus, as it always has been, is on the war with these bandit hordes. Which, if I may remind you, still have not identified a leader to us as is custom in proper warfare of our time. Has the kingdom's spymaster sent word of anything? Or do you come out here just to annoy me as always my dearest friend?"

"How many blasted questions must you rattle off before I have a chance to answer them Kalliana? I have told you before I only offer such names for you because you are the only female amongst our ranks. Think of it as a fair man such as myself gently teasing you to keep your guard up. As far as the spymaster sending word or the bandits not naming a leader, perhaps it is because they do not have one? It is only my guess seeing as there is no word from the Capital or the Spymaster, as to be expected with this much snow and cold, but it seems logical.

"They are bandits after all beloved. Or maybe they have not named a leader because they do not want to name a leader to us. Customs are not laws, and even if they were I doubt these mutts would be willing to come forth with such important information. Or if they did how likely is it to be true? They are bandits Lady Knight; trickery is as much of their nature as robbing and killing."

Taking a few moments to think over what he said I eventually nodded once in agreement though something didn't quite make sense: If he only hunts bandits than how is it that he knows such a great deal about their lifestyle and their plans? Looking over Markus it seems that he lived a rough life but he never talks about it. I need to know if I am going to trust this man.

"Markus, explain. How is it that you know so much about bandit culture and plans when you hunt them and are not one yourself? Surely the others have noticed as well, or is it just me because I know you so well?"

"You ask me how I know so much about them but how is it that you know nothing about them whenever you have spent your life hunting them after they killed your mother and father? Your oldest brother became one, and your youngest sister was kidnapped by him. Why do you know nothing about them?"

She instinctively flinched, bringing up the past of how her brother had turned on the village in which they lived always hurt. Even more so was the memory of seeing her mother and father run through by his bandit-master earlier that day and. It had all happened in less than three days, only five years ago. Now the Lady Knight was seventeen, age for marrying and giving birth to children. She swore to give that up to hunt bandits, to find the one who killed her parents and run him through. To find her brother, run him through, and rescue her youngest sister.

"I am not my brother, I do not know how they operate as he always had. Though please do not refrain from answering my question and dodging it; I asked how you know so much about them. I want an answer Markus, now preferably so that we are not in this damned cold all evening and will be able to go get supper tonight."

"Very well Lady Knight but you will not like the answer—"

"I do not care if I will like it, I demand to know why and how."

"How? I am an ex-bandit myself Lady Knight Kalliana. As for why: why does any man become corrupt and join the hordes? They need the money and food and have no other way to get it."