Sooooo... Here is the first chapter of my first story on this site. It is long, so beware that. I would love some feedback on what you guys thought of it, and if there is anything that needs improving. ^_^

A rag-tag mercenary group is sent out to find an illegitimate prince to take over the throne of Avron. However, things go spiraling down when they step into the knowledge of an invasion of another country.

Adriana Fallon must both overcome her hate of the royal line, and throw aside her grief to bring Avron out of chaos.

Chapter 1: Grief and Beginnings

It's so quiet...

Why is it so quiet...?

Adriana Fallon takes a deep breath and peers down the long hall. Torches line the length of the bleak, grey stone walls hardly pleasing to the eyes. These unappealing walls stretch on forever, paused only by the few banners or paintings. At the entrance to the hall, guards are vigilant for any possible misfit.

As if they do not know that she herself was one of the best thieves around.

Adriana scowls and exhales her warm breath into the frigid air. The dissolving thick puffs brings her back to why she's in such a bad mood. She dislikes the cold, despises it even. Avron just happens to have really bad winters, almost as bad as the Bitterlands. Not to mention, they're in the royal palace. Adriana has little fondness of the royal line, for reasons she'd rather not to venture into.

Another not so fond topic for the young woman, is that Magic also runs strong in this country, a fact that puzzle even the most educated of scholars. So many problems for one country, and yet she's stuck here.

Adriana is, by blood, both Lander and Avronian. Hypothetically she SHOULD be very resistant to the cold. Alas, she has never had such resistances. The trait seems to have skipped right over her like a stone skipped on water. Adriana, however, is tall and curved in all the places expected of a woman her age in the world of Nevar, and dressed in thick, yet light, clothing. The most showing is her deer-skin coat lined with fur, and high collars that just barely brushes her high cheekbones. There is also thick, grey, cotton trousers tucked neatly into leather boots a bit thicker than she'd prefer if it was not for the unbearable cold.

She runs her thin, elegant fingers through her long, straight raven black hair that reaches just past her shoulder blades and falls easily on her shoulders. Her slightly squared jaw-line, parts to give another wisp of foggy breath in frustration that dissipates just at a straight nose now colored red with the cold. That foggy breath had slipped past red lips, and not even reaching her dark lashed Icy blue eyes that hold no pleasure for her surroundings.

Thick, hardened leather shoulder pads are bared on her shoulders, matching similar elbow pads. She has two belts, one tight around her hips holds two sheathed daggers and various pouches, the second hangs loosely and holds one pouch, four vials of substances only she knows of, and an obviously dwindling coin purse. All surprisingly matching, even for her.

All in all, she's a sight to see, but one dangerous to get near. Not to mention the fact that she has a short fuse, which matches her skills with a blade.

Adriana growls at the waiting and begins another round of pacing. Oh how much she wished to be rid of this place right now! If Seth had not played a decent argument, she would not have come. Okay, maybe she would have, but still. The least they could have done was let her participate in the discussion that would secure the job for them. Sometimes she wonders if they even notice how well she advances in the field of tactics...

Just then, the solid and kindly detailed oak doors swing open in an almost cliche manner. She stares dully at the approaching group and takes notice at how rag-tag their group really was.

The "official" leader is Seth Garrison, an ex-Military man of Avron who had briefly been a city guard before even that. No one could question his experience, being nearly forty and already having more hardships than the most experienced veteran. Adriana and her sister had been quite surprised when he had readily agreed to become traveling mercenaries. Though, most can sum it up that slow town life was not meant for a battle-hardened soldier who had spent most of his life fighting for life or death. Adriana and Alison were just kids when he had found them, but even being the fatherly-figure he was, they knew getting on his bad side was worse than death itself.

The next is Lucas, no last name, just Lucas. He is a strange High-elf with unusual red hair. He stands a good deal shorter than Seth, but so do most elves. It never helped that Seth is also very tall. He's currently covered by a thick grey cloak, but Adriana knows that with one sweep of an arm, he is no meek creature. He is dressed from the neck down in tempered, enchanted, and hardy elvish armor only found worn by the most honored of elves, having been crafted from dragon hide aged for centuries and forged in the Peak Forge at the highest point on Nevar, under a full moon. Every little detail of the armor has made Adriana envious, but she gathers that he had done something endearing to have earned such a set. On his right hip would be his trustingly enchanted short-sword, Fang. The silverlite sword a blacksmith's dream. The only other defining points about him is his many pouches, a vine tattoo on his left cheek, and bright green eyes. Other than that, he has the same flawless features of most elves, with a thin noses slightly hooked, high cheekbones, thin jawline and chin, all tied up by thin lips pressed in a thoughtful frown. Not a force to be trifled with, especially since he is a jack-of-all-trades.

Then there's Alison Fallon, Adriana's twin sister. The only difference is that the other sister is dressed brighter, and has loose curls. Not to mention smiles more. The cheery twin, however, looks suspicious with a long wrapped bundle strapped to her back. She also wears thinner clothes than Adriana. Alison is the one who ended up with the cold resistances, sadly, and is the one that accepts her magic. That's right, they both have the ability to see, hear, and speak to magic. Magic is a living, breathing force in Nevar. Despite this, however, it is a very neutral aspect of the world. It is neither good nor bad, it all depends on the adept person whom wields it.

Adriana finds such to be a curse...

The last person who makes an appearance is the high and mighty King Phillip who likes to perch on his comfy throne while certain subjects of his are put through torture. The raven-haired woman holds back a look of anger and stands to attention. Seth gives her a stern look she can fully understand:

Don't screw this up.

Simple, and not easy. Adriana eyes the withering man, his pale skin wrinkled and dark brown hair now streaked heavily with grey. His green eyes, however, still show a certain youth. So much so that she finds it hard to believe that it is the same king that she holds such a strong hatred for. Past that, however, he walks with an air of authority. As any king should. That is something Adriana would find very poor if a king did not. If one is to lead a kingdom, why would it be someone who cannot even convince others that he can?

When they stop before her, Seth speaks.

"We have our job, Adriana. The king's last legitimate son was killed, proving the rumors at the local inns true." The armored man says in his grizzled voice that the twins had grown up with.

Adriana crosses her arms and asks, "So what are we to do? Is there an illegitimate son out there?"

King Phillip sighs, "Exactly so, miss. His name is Dane Lupei, and he works as a street entertainer."

Adriana gives a surprised look at her correct guess as Lucas says, "He was in Sith for a long time, however, so he may be more than a mere street performer."

Alison bobs her head in mutual agreement, " We know all too well that any amount of time spent in the streets of a populated Sith city can change even the most innocent of people. Lead to theft, for example..."

Adriana sends a glower at Alison, knowing for well it was directed at her. The archivist Adriana was sold to when she was younger had spent two long years in Sith, where they stayed in the populated city of Crete. This had influenced the young Adriana into a life of thievery. Of course, Alison was influenced to a shadowed path as well, but she tries not to let it show. Adriana, however, is just fine acting upon her urges to... relieve some wealthy passer by of there ever so burdening coin.

"True enough, but right now he's working in Queens. Said to have a Dreadhound." Seth says in monotone. He never liked the only chaotic city of Avron, seeing as he has been robbed more than once just walking those streets.

Queens is the second largest city in Avron, with the capital, Evergrace, being the overall largest. It is the center of all the crime in Avron, in addition to the trade. Everything that goes in or out of Avron has at least once passed through the hands of a sly merchant, or the Baron, of Queens. Evergrace, despite having a larger population and being the capital, does not have such influence. It has a king though, so it's not cropped out.

Adriana thinks for a bit on the new information, scanning her mind for every street of the unruly city. It's possible that they could find this princeling, but it won't be easy. Just as they are moving, so is their target. It's unlikely that he will stay in Queens forever. The fastest way there is Farlorn Pass, but everyone knows bandits lurk along that path. The only other beaten path is the Imperial Highway, a long wall built in the times from when the Imperials lived and tried to defend their kingdoms from the monsters beyond. Now, it is merely a path to travel upon. Though, there have been one or two incidents where someone took a tumble and went splat at the end of the fall.

"If we travel fast enough, along the Imperial Highway, we might get there in time." Adriana says at last, her mind still racing with possible outcomes.

Seth gives her a questioning look, "What? Farlorn Pass is the fastest way, so why choose the Imperial Highway?"

Adriana taps her ear three times gently and says in a low voice, "The prince was assassinated, so I doubt no one is listening to us the very moment. Farlorn Pass is far to open, easy enough for four unknowns to just... Disappear. The Imperial Highway is crowded, and someone is always watching. Once we leave the path, we have to be on high alert. This princeling is in danger now."

Lucas scans the support beams of the ceiling and the back at the others, "Then we head out immediately."

Seth gives a brisk nod then turns to King Phillip and crosses his arms over his chest and gives a proper Nevarian bow, "We will be on our way, your Highness."

The king nods and they speed walk away to the stables. No, they do not have horses. Adriana only wishes that they did. The stables are just where they have stored their belongings. Having packs while talking with a king is considered improper. The fact that she cares or not, is irrelevant.

Adriana picks up her heavy cloak that hid her pack and quickly puts the pack on to cover up in the at least warmer cloak. The others are less hasty, seeing as she is the only one with a problem with the cold. She inhales deeply, letting the cold, crisp air sting her lungs as she stares at the seemingly empty city below. She exhales slowly, watching the evaporation flood the air. The white, fluffy snow is thick underfoot, and sparkling from the new layer made last night. With the sunrise hitting it just right, she understands why people like winter. Granted, the cold is forever torturing, she can see the beauty. Alison trudges up to her and looks around for Adriana's target, but sees nothing of the sort.

"You know, winter would be great if I was like you," the admiring twin mumbles as she stares at her feet.

Alison rolls her eyes, "You know very well that you are like me, we're twins."

Adriana gives Alison a despaired look, "Do you hear millions of whispers in your head wherever you go? Do you freeze in the mildest of Avron winters? Despite being twins, Alison, I think I drew the short straw. Anyways, I'm a dreary thief who hardly smiles, while you're... Cheerful."

Alison frowns at all the differences listed off by her sister and says, "We just had different experiences, you know that."

Seth comes out of the stables, his full face helmet on, and says, "Well, shall we be on our way?"

Adriana looks at the warrior, then glances at her sister before saying, "Let us get this over with. Our assassin must already be hunting his prey."

"Cheery as always," states Lucas as he hands the thief a water skin.

Adriana shakes her head and begins the long journey, "Murder is not a happy topic, and neither is working for a king who ordered Alison and mine's execution along with several other slaves. Cheery, is not what I would describe my life as. Anyways, Seth is cooking tonight, another reason to be anti-cheery."

Seth huffs, "Well I'm sorry my traditional Avron rabbit stew is not to your standards. I'd like to see you do better with our few provisions!"

Lucas raises an eyebrow, "Seth, she can do better. All of us can."

The warrior then grunts before giving the others the silent treatment. Adriana studies the looming shops, and inns, and simple homes, all layered in ice and snow. Barely a soul trudge the cobblestone streets of Evergrace, all opting to stay by a warm fire or snuggled in familiar beds. Not something Adriana has known since she was seventeen... Ten years ago. Now, she only knows the faint longing of a home with a warm fireplace and familiar bed. Even when Seth had found her and her sister, she had dared not become attached to the feeling for six years... Because she knew without a doubt, that a home was not what lie in her fate. Almost feared it.

Adriana looks at cobblestone streets below her feet and wishes this over already. Her grudge is mild now, after years of tempering it. It is the confronting of the past that makes her so bitter toward the royal line. She doesn't want to open up to the pain she had felt back then. Looking to a king in a plea of help, only for him to order your execution right before you, that is not something a person forgets. Not as a little girl, nor as the woman she is today. Alison, she... Sees the brighter things in life, while Adriana hides behind her tall walls. Not even Seth, the only fatherly figure in their life, can breach it. Only her twin seems to understand Adriana's endless struggle.

"A prince, a dog, and a ragtag mercenary group... What a mixture that will be," states Alison, trying to lighten the mood. It doesn't work.

Adriana hears a gruff reply from Seth, but her mind is elsewhere. She hears whispers, coaxing her toward a path full of many regrets. She dislikes spirits with a passion, them and their endless pestering. The books make it sound simple, but when there are magical being whispering sweet nothings in your ears... You learn that those very books cannot have been written by someone who understands. And it is true, all books that she has read are only written by closed-minded scholars. None were adept, none heard those very sweet nothings she hears every day with no end. They whisper things of an end, a home, her parents, fortune, desire, lust, greed... All things that she opts to ignore, yet they do not go away. Not even Alison has this problem.

"Are they bugging you again?" asks Alison as she walks beside her sister.

Adriana sighs, "I'm bugged by many things right now, but yes. When are they not?"

Alison frowns, "They must want something from you, desperately, for them to forever haunt you."

Adriana sigh and shakes her head, lips pressed tightly together. That is only Alison's theory, but it makes her feel no better. The fact that beings from a spirit realm want anything from her this whole time is... Worrisome... There has never been a mortal the sole attention of this many spirits. Much less one who barely uses her powers...

Seth walks over and nudges Adriana, "Cheer up Adri, try looking on the brighter things of life."

Adriana glowers at Seth and says, "Life is a metaphoric symbolization of every living moment. So far, every living moment of my being here has not been anywhere close to cheerful. So, Seth, if you wish cheerful, you should have raised a different kid."

Even Adriana can tell he's frowning under that bucket, "I also raised you to see that not everyone and every place is like how you had grown up. Adriana, not everyone is out to get you."

Adriana looks at the slowly dying torch at the gates of Evergrace and says, "Yeah, well, no one is out to help me either. I'll scout ahead. Just follow the Imperial Highway, and do not turn around or be led away."

With that, Adriana jogs off, the others not bothering to follow her. They know perfectly well of Adriana's trust issues. They know she doesn't like staying in one place for long, nor discussing her. They also know she just needs to cool off every once and a while. Meeting the king she vowed never to forgive as long as she lived, was not the best move in her case.

Adriana slows down once she is sure that she has some distance between them, and weaves her way through travelers. The Imperial Highway is one of the busiest roads in all of Avron, being the one the connects to nearly every one of them. She uses her swift hands to pluck a bag of apples from a passing cart and eat a rather juicy caramel colored one, a sweet, sugary taste bursting in her mouth. Must be fresh from the Farm Fields, just West of Hamage... She continues her munching, eyeing the people shoving past and crowded flocks. An assassin could be anywhere, but one would not dare kill so openly unless he cares not of dying. This assassin, however, has a target that does not walk this road.

Adriana takes a deep breath and notices a glint of silver armor among the crowd. Several lucifers are grouped together, as if on a mission. Her walking becomes forceful, and panic wells up inside her. She herself can hide just fine from the hunters of those that wield magic, but Alison is another story. The twin knows well enough on HOW to avoid them, but the AVOIDING part does not appeal to her. Adriana has enough common sense to know that people like them earn their head in a basket at the chop block. Especially ones that do not conform to their religious ways. Adriana continues walking though, putting on her trading face. They are not looking for her and her sister currently, and Adriana would slaughter anyone who dares to harm her twin. Just a bit of protectiveness, with knives...

Lucifers are a part of the Divine Order, meant to protect and spread religious nonsense. Lucifers themselves are people who sever magic, cutting one off for good. Here is Nevar, magic is sin. To them, magic is the Great Opposer himself, or a major servant of him. Their conclusion: destroy any possibility of people adept like her communicating with it. Adriana despises them. Just because she hates the repercussions that come with her abilities, she does not think any living thing should be denied such things as a person to talk to. Magic is a living thing, it could not choose to be what it is...

'Yet, people fear what they do not understand...' thinks Adriana as she lets out a stuttered breath. Such a thing is how all misconceptions and war has started. Fear, and power...

The only amusing thing she finds from them is teasing them, using small bits of magic then creating some kind of excuse for what he or she saw. Granted, now is not the time. Not to mention, there is about fifteen of them. As good as she is, there's no way she could delude all of them. Much less flee them.

Adriana slinks back through the crowd, not arousing any attention. It is simple, weaving in and out of the crowd, evading notice. All one needs is the practiced skill to become unnoticed. She finds her way to the other, getting surprised responses. They had not expected her back so soon.

"Lucifers are thick on the roads. For reasons which I know not of." Adriana tells them in a hushed tone. She does not want others overhearing.

Alison gives a look that states that she obviously has no interest in hiding from them, but it quickly melts to an understanding look and a short nod. She knows the importance of hiding right now, and the fact that they are about in large groups a little startling. Despite lucifers being a common sight, they are not commonly gathered in more than three at a time. When not in a Cathedral, at least.

Adriana gives her twin a stern look, "Stay away."

She raises an eyebrow, "Doesn't that also apply to you, sister? You're more likely to antagonize them than me."

Adriana doesn't lose her stern expression, "Stay. Away. I mean it, do not leave Seth and Lucas' sides. I'll continue scouting, see if I can get us off the Highway. We need to get to Forlorn Pass."

Seth gives a surprised look, "But you're the one who told us to go along the Highway."

Adriana turns to him, "Yeah, well, now there's danger for Alison and me here. For what ever reason lucifers are here, we must avoid."

They nod and Adriana hesitates before weaving through the crowd, exploring for any exit. It's due time they start this, and hope for good travels. Granted, Adriana hasn't seen a day of travel that there wasn't any trouble.

'So,' Adriana think, 'I suppose we will face trouble head-on.'

Adriana grumbles at the sudden gust of biting cold wind that manages to blow past the crowd and eyes a few straggling lucifers that have fallen behind their comrades. She has a bad feeling about the gathering, and the fact of assassination strong in the air is not helping. Too many things are happening for there to be any coincidences...

Adriana balls her fists and passes through the crowd to an opening, the stairs long since eroded from the years of lack of use. This very reason is why it is never used, but she knows better than to follow the misconception of warnings of danger. The rumors spread so criminals do not escape in large parties. In groups of two or alone, one could easily follow it down. She's done so before, having been a thief running from officers.

She quickly goes back to the others, "Okay, follow me. Do not show that you are though."

Seth nods and Adriana saunters off, keeping in the illusion that she is no one to suspect. She passes a man hunched over and bearded, who is followed by two kids a little older than ten. She frowns at the sight and continues on, ducking away as a lucifers looks back. Soon enough, she reaches the opening.

Alison stops beside her, "Adriana..."

Adriana shakes her head, "Not now. Climb down."

They all trudge down the stairway, one after another. Alison slips, but Seth grabs her arm before she can take a tumble. The stern look he gives voices the many commands unspoken. He then gives Adriana an irritated look and the young woman frowns. She knows full well the danger of taking an exit that doesn't flow into land. Even worse of one for taking a crumbling one. They remain silent though, and the noise of the road quiets the further they go. As unnerving as it is to descend the crumbling stair to the towering wall, it's worse when you look down.

Adriana hears Seth groan, and the woman instantly knows he looked down. As stern and tough as he looks, he's afraid of heights. She shakes her head and feels once more for a stable step. As soon as she puts pressure on it, the cracking rock crumbles. Adriana instantly pulls back and edges around the lack of stone step and hears a hiss of irritation from the usually calm elf. As much as she'd like to tease him for it, she'd prefer silence.

After a while of descending the steps Seth greets the stable ground openly before turning sharply to Adriana, "That was your brilliant plan? Any one of us could have fallen!"

The young women glares, "I'm oh so sorry for getting us off the Highway. Would you have rather exited with the religious magic haters? Look, we're safe, and we need to make it to Forlorn Pass. It's a day's way to the west."

Seth points the finger- that scared her as a girl- at her, but now it is just a finger being pointed. Funny how one seems to grow up, and all those things that scared them are now just there. Adriana wishes most of that were true, but some horrors never go away.

"I do not care if you've done something a million times, Adriana, not all of us are like you. Climbing down ancient stairs that are never used for a reason, is not meant to be done." Seth says, putting his hand down with some struggle.

Adriana points to the west, "I got us here, now lead us through the job you got us. Or are you going to stand there reprimanding me like a little girl that I am no longer?"

Alison puts a hand on her sister's shoulder and Adriana puts her arm down. Anger at the disapproval is obvious on her face. To her, it feels like everything she does is lost to his pea-sized view of the little girls they no longer are.

Seth scowls and Lucas pitches in, "We can discuss this later when we stop for the day. For now, we should head for Forlorn Pass."

The armored man clenches his fists and leads on, Lucas following close behind. Adriana watches the man leave and bows her head until Alison removes her hand to catch up. The thief sighs and follows behind, wishing lucifers didn't exist. If they did not, none of this would have happened...

A few hours later, they enter a small town by the name of Terence just as the last rays of sunlight dance on the snow. The town itself is small and insignificant, barely a passing thought to most people. The group stop here for the night, staying at the very mediocre inn. There is nothing to see as they head for the Bee's Barb, wooden houses with thatched roofs and people finishing up the daily chore. Children are ushered indoors, while strays curl up in a protected space from the biting cold.

Seth pushes the inn's door open, and the group is greeted by the comfortable warmth that the royal palace was lacking. Inside a few drunks snooze by empty tankards. The innkeeper is chatting with customers, and smell of fresh stew blocks out the smell of stale ale and old piss. He takes off his helmet and sighs, not having been in a tavern for a few seasons.

Adriana inhales deeply and exhales with a smile, "Oh, how I miss warm inns. How about you get us a room, Seth, and I order us some food?"

Before Seth can even respond, Adriana quickly walks away to a woman stirring the stew at the crackling fireplace. She smiles and presents a good-natured conversationalist.

"Hello ma'am, how much fer the delicious stew when it's fully prepared and ready? I know how long it takes to make somethin' edible, and how egg-head men are 'bout food. I don't wanna to rush, just askin' fer a price." Adriana says, looking very innocent and using a low-lander accent. The fact remains, though, that those daggers hidden beneath the cloak make her far from such.

The woman turns to Adriana, surprised. She was a bit on the chubby side, with deep worry-lines that creases her forehead. A big nose sits above fat, chapped lips, and a frown that it holds. She is no princess beauty, but any woman cook takes a play like that as a dog takes a bone. The frown turns into a cracked smile and she pushes her wispy bangs back into her greasy brown hair.

"Why aren't you a rare lass! I haven't seen a woman in this rickety old place since the time King Phillip took the throne! It's nice to have someone who knows what a task it is feeding hungry men!" The innkeeper's wife says with much enthusiasm.

Adriana plays a understanding smile, "Yes, it can be quite a task if ya let it. How 'bout I pay ye an extra silver for the best of efforts? Yer doing so already, but a pay will not hert too bad?"

The woman accepts the given coin with a mighty grin, "I can guarantee such!"

Adriana gives a friendly nod and saunters off to the back of the tavern where Lucas and Alison wait. The young woman gives them a victory grin that they can tell means they have a cheap meal tonight.

As Adriana sits beside Alison, the twin says, "How you always manage to trick everyone but us is beyond me, sister."

Lucas shrugs, "Adriana's skill saves us needed coin, we do not need to understand it."

The mentioned woman smiles, "Exactly so Twinkle Toes, and I'm sure Seth is busy with room arrangements. Not that he's going to get us anything good..."

Alison frowns at the idea, "I do hope that is not the case. The last room he got us was the room they used for storing laundry."

"Yes well... Let us cross our fingers and hope. Nothing more to do, right?" Just as Adriana says that, Seth walks over with a key and four mugs of Fern Berry Cider.

"Well, I've gotten a room with one bed and a window. It's for guests, and not laundry." says the burly man as he hands each of them a mug.

Lucas raises a questioning eyebrow, "And who, shall I ask, gets the bed? I'm not flipping a coin for it."

Adriana raises her Cider, "I call the bed! By the Planes, I defiantly need to get off the ground for once."

Seth sits down and sighs, "How about the girls take the bed? They have no problem sharing, and Lucas doesn't sleep much anyways."

The twins look at each other then back at Seth to say simultaneously, "Fine by us."

Seth raises a thick eyebrow and then shrugs, "Any disagreements, Lucas?"

The red-haired elf shakes his head and downs his Cider, and asks for a refill. Adriana cannot help but smile just a little, having missed the light-hearted moments that rarely come anymore. Lately, everything has been on edge. Sometimes, she needs these moments of just sitting around talking. It was going fine until...

"Where do you suggest we look first in Queens for this Dane Lupei?" Seth asks, leaning forward. Of course, there was business to attend to. Adriana gives a bitter reminder to herself to never begin relaxing when there is a job.

The young thief removes her pack and digs out a bundle of papers, easily identifiable as maps. She skims through them and pulls out two, returns the others to the pack, and spreads them over the table. One is labeled Upper Queens, and the other The Lower District.

She points at the center of a cluster of marked alleys, "It's likely he is using a fake name. Lupei is a royal family in Sylvia, after all. This box in the middle is the entrance to the best friend of spies and thieves alike. It's the intersection of a sewers system, leading to several fences, hideaways, and forgers. He didn't cross over into Avron with the fake name, so he'll have visited the only place in the country that makes them."

Alison frowns, "Is that where you go when you left me with Seth to 'look at more interesting items for sell' all those times we were there?"

Adriana hesitates, "Um... Maybe? The fact is, this is the first place we need to visit to begin our search."

Seth studies the map, "When did you think this theory up?"

She shrugs and says nonchalantly, "When I was told his name, that he was in Sith, and that he was a traveling minstrel. If you connect it all, the result was obvious."

Lucas gestures at the Upper Queens map, "What of this one?"

Adriana points at several taverns, street corners, and inns, "Those places are where we'd most likely find him if he's posing as a traveling minstrel. Disguise or not, he has to stick with what it comes with."

Lucas nods and studies the map, his thin lips pressed in his usual thoughtful frown. After a while he says, "That would take days to search with a slim possibility of success. We would have to split up."

Alison's eyes widen, "That would not be wise, Lucas. Last time we did that, we were cornered by thugs. Plus, as much as Adriana is good with maps, she cannot guess her East from her West. She could easily navigate by MEMORY, but even Queens has too many alleys for her."

The twin roles her eyes, "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Alison. As Lucas said, it would take us days with a possibility of not finding this princeling; we do need to split up. Lucas can come with me, and Seth can go with Alison. If we find nothing by early evening each day we search, we meet back here at the Lanson Basket. Cheapest inn in Queens."

Just before Seth can make a remark, the innkeeper's wife comes with bowls of stew an chunks of fresh bread. Adriana's mouth watered, the thought of warm food now faced with the reality of smelling warm food. Even if the stew is not the best, as she had seen the lack of ingredients the woman had added, it was better than if Seth had cooked. This makes her kind of happy for lucifers being on the Highway, because if they hadn't, they would have camped in the bitter snow with Seth's grey slop to eat.

She sets the food on the table and says with a smile of crooked teeth, "It's on the house, darlings."

Adriana gives a smile of her own, "Why thank ya ma'am! That's mighty generous of ya!"

When she leaves, the group quickly begins eating away at the provided food. Adriana identifies is as rabbit stew, something common in Avron, and it's the same as every other inn's stew. Bland, unflavored, and only complimented by bread. She eats it anyways, only stopping to gulp some Cider and breathe. She will hate leaving after they rest up. As she reaches to devour her last bit of bread some people enter the inn chatting away.

"I can't believe the lucifers are cutting off all routes to Queens! Some of us have to sell things to feed the mouths of children! Cursed holy-men, I'll pay my respect to the Divine One, but those people need to leave." Grumbles one man in irritation.

The other shrugs, "Can't disobey them, but we can bunker down here until they clear off. Must be something big."

Adriana stiffens, and she gives Seth an "I told you so" look before finishing her food and leaving for the room. Alison quickly follows, knowing that hiding is the best course of action if the great Adriana feels the need to. They climb the rickety steps and Adriana opens the only unlocked room, closing the door behind them. After about half an hour, four soft knocks comes from it.

Lucas enters, followed by Seth, and says, "Apparently, no one knows the reason for the blockade. It is, however, obvious that they are not looking for you or Alison. Either way, we need to get to Queens."

Adriana scratches her chin then crosses her arms, "Forlorn Pass connects to the exiting road of here. It's unknown enough to be forgotten by the Divine Order, but wariness is a must. We should rest up, it's a long trip to Queens, blocked or not..."

The thief's nerves flare in flashing warnings, but she suppresses them- there will be time enough to fret once the job is done.

Adriana lets out an exasperated sigh as she pulls the hood of her cloak tighter around her face that is reddened by the biting cold. She unconsciously grumbles about the snow clumping on the end of her cloak, and the fact that her shoes are soaked all the way to her socks. Though the snow storm had only lasted the night, it left behind vast amounts of new snow for them to trudge through- much to her dismay. It also saddens her slightly, seeing the white expanse trampled upon by their feet. Though, the wet cold quickly demolishes that slight sadness.

Eventually, Adriana opts for a logical look of the scenery. Anyone with a lick of sense can track them with the path they have forged, if they were being tracked. She only hopes no one has a need to track them. There are plenty of tree bunches along the rough road to hide in, if worse comes to shove. Avron is known for its simplistic building structures and forested lands, quite the opposite from the rugged and rocky lands to the west in the country known as Weltivon.

When Seth notifies the group that they are only a little ways away from Queens, Adriana perks up, "That means our job is getting closer to its end."

Alison chuckles at her twin's eagerness to finish the job, "There is still a trip back, and jobs after this. It's your fault we're in the first place. If you hadn't stolen that family heirloom from that young lord, we would be at the warm port cities of Trevion."

Adriana shrugs nonchalantly at that accusation as Lucas grumbles, "Yeah, and I would have not had to cut my hair."

"Your hair was too long anyways, Lucas, and it's not like that lord needed that jewel. He had plenty more that I could have taken that were far prettier." Adriana says with her devious smirk, holding up a pouch.

"But you had to pick the smallest and rarest jewel in the bunch." Seth says, though his voice is slightly muffled by his full-faced helmet.

Then, the magic users feel like they just stepped through a wall of cold water. Both Adriana and Alison stop in place. Adriana's eyes widen slightly, as she looks around. She notices the thin wisps of Magic almost nonexistent, being pulled toward the direction of Queens. She looks at her twin, their eyes meeting. She too had noticed the feeling of stepping through liquid just seconds before.

Everyone's eyes turn toward columns of smoke in the not-so-far distance.

Lucas looks away and mutters, "Magic..."

"There is someone very powerful, or a lot of mages, to have made such a disguise." Alison says, sounding out of breath.

Adriana nods, feeling like she has not slept for months. The spirits are quiet now, as if they were taken with Magic. Her head throbs, and Alison gives her a concerned look. "Are you alright, sister?"

Adriana shakes her head and scowls, "Lets just figure out what is going on."

After a few moments of silence, they quickly head for Queens. Desperation fills their steps as they go, Adriana trailing behind. Her head swims, and she finds it hard to catch her breath. Not even Alison shows such struggles, and that brings a puzzled expression to her pained face.

When they get to the cliff just outside the towering city walls to get a good look at the situation, it shakes Adriana to her core.

Below them, the twisting streets of the proud city are burning and in rubble. Soldiers patrol, looking like swarming ants dressed in metal armor. Adriana feels horrified at this sight, tears stinging her eyes- memories of a burning town becoming unburied.

"What happened here!" Seth growls in outrage, gauntlet hand clenching the hilt of his blade dangerously. Being a former soldier that protected Avron, this was a hard sight for him.

Alison steps closer to the edge and peers down, eyes searching for something. There is a pain in her eyes, a desperate look to find a good reason behind this. Adriana finds herself envying that need to find the good in everything- but understands that there is none here.

The thief limps over to her twin and reaches to put a hand on her shoulder to lead her back, but a crossbow sounds. Mere seconds later, a bolt grazes Adriana's hand. She pulls back, hissing in pain. When she turns to the attacker, there is a group of soldiers. One man among the group is obviously a prisoner, by the looks of his bound state and torn clothes that hardly cover massive bruises.

Everyone quickly draw there weapons as Seth steps up to the unknown soldiers, "Give me one good reason I shouldn't cut the lot of you down."

The one who shot the bolt roughly shoves the crossbow back to one of his men and says with his obvious and thick Weltivon accent, "Yer as good as dead now, with what you've seen. Kill 'em boys, leave no witnesses."

The soldiers charge at us, all large and heavily armed. As Adriana dodges a swinging great ax, she notices a heron insignia on the fur-lines armor of the attackers. Before she can process anymore, she dive at her assailant and twist his arm behind him- forcing his weapon out of his hand just before she slit his throat. The thief barely hears Seth yell for Lucas to cover Alison over the clanging of metal on metal and gurgling cries of a dying being. When she does, though, she looks around frantically for her twin.

A rather thick man rams into Adriana's side, knocking her to the ground hard. She yelps in surprise as she manages to roll just half an inch out of a great sword's thrust down. With quick thinking, she kicks his legs out from under him and springs to her feet, using the great sword that is stuck in the ground to slam her feet on his head.

The thief does not give herself time to catch her breath as she knocks aside an assailant in an attempt to look for her sister, managing to glimpse her on the edge of the cliff with the leader of these soldiers pressing a sword to her chest.

"ALISON!" Adriana cries out, shoving her way to her. Before she can lunge at the attacker, he viciously shoves Alison off the cliff with his sword in her chest.

Adriana freezes there, eyes wide with shock, unmoving even as Seth rushes over as the last of the attacker's solders falls.

Lucas makes quick work of the leader, who was already wounded from his fight with Alison, but none of them speak. Adriana slowly approaches the cliff, and peers down below. There are sharp rocks at the end of the long fall, as well as raging river water.

"They had a prisoner," Lucas announces, jolting Adriana out of her cold mourning.

'We have a job,' she thinks coldly, forcing back the tears and the bile rising in her throat. This isn't the first death she has witnessed, but there is a pain in her heart that is far stronger than the death of others. There is a part of her that wants to cry her heart out, properly mourn he twins death, but more soldiers would come.

She forces herself to turn away, limp back to the others. The assailant's prisoner stands up after Lucas cuts his bindings, and heavily thanks his rescuers.

"Who are you?" Seth asks, but there is a hollowness to his voice now. The eyes behind the helmet are sad, weary.

The saved man clears his throat and straightens his back a bit, "I'm Dane Lupei, traveling minstrel and-"

Adriana stalks forward, pushing past Seth's halting arm, and grabs the collar of his torn up shirt, "Listen to me, and listen closely. My sister just died, was just KILLED, because we were sent to find YOU. I don't care if you're a prince, or some piss-pot drunk who the world would never give a damn for, we're here for the coin. Either you get your ass to the capital, or die. I won't let my sister have die for nothing, and I will get my payment when we get there- plus interest."

Her words are cracked, but filled with venom and anger. To most, they would sound self-centered and unconcerned of what had just happened, but it's how Adriana deals with anything. She's shoved her feelings down and could care less what she does now- maybe she'll get drunk and die in a bar fight if she's lucky.

Lucas pries her away from the man and says, "Stop it, Adriana. Now is not the time."

"And when is? When we're halfway to Evergrace and this princeling decides he no longer wants anything to do with his royal blood?" Adriana snaps, "I don't give two shits about the royal line, but neither do I want countries at war. Either he is with us, or he dies and we watch Avron burn. It's obvious Weltivon has finally decided to invade, so why wait?"

"We do not even know who it was that attacked, so there is no cause to believe it is the entirety of Weltivon that is invading," Seth points out.

Adriana glares at the ground and finally says when she looks at the people before her, "The heron mark on their armor is the insignia for the Dorrow family, who has a long-standing relationship with the royal family. If the Dorrows are involved, then the King has ordered an attack- they're suck-ups."

"You know alot about politics," comments Dane as he rolls his shoulders, "Why is that?"

Adriana shoots him a glare, "None of your business, Princeling."

Lucas steps between them and says, "Enough talking, we need to move before they send out a patrol."

"The soldiers tied their mounts a little ways off, and my Dreadhound. We can take those and lessen the time it will take to get to Evergrace." Dane says, though his tone of voice is very serious now.

Seth nods, "Alright, we'll go with that plan. Come on."

Lucas and Seth both begin following Dane to the mounts, but Adriana sadly looks back at the cliff. Her heart tightens at the thought of never traveling with her sister again, or hear the jokes against her grumpy moods. Tears would have come if Seth hadn't called out for her to catch up.

She turns away from the site of her twin's death, and trudges through the snow after the group she will be with for a very long journey.