Three decades later...

Sin had learned early on that emotions were a weakness she couldn't afford. She didn't usually allow herself to feel anything if she could help it, but right now, the only appropriate feeling was hatred. She absolutely hated her life.

She was not allowed the moral outrage she was also currently feeling, buried deep inside the shriveled husk of a heart beating hallowly in her chest. It was definitely there and she hated that even more.

She knew she had no choice. The elders had demanded this man's death and she must appease their bloodlust. That didn't mean she had to like killing a good person. Especially when she didn't have a choice in the matter.

Since she had finally tracked Kadren Thatcher down in the tiny town of Thornvale, she had followed him and had observed him, saw him when no one else was looking. He had never ceased to be a person of integrity. She had once naively believed that the men she killed must have done something to deserve their death at her hands. Discovering the truth of the matter had not changed anything for her. It just made killing them that much harder.

It didn't matter though. If she didn't kill Kadren Thatcher now, she would either be forced to do it or someone else would do it while she watched. That was always her punishment, not the sweet embrace of a well deserved death. There was no escape in death.

It was growing late now and Kadren was finally alone. He had bought out the local smith the year before when he moved to Thornvale and lived a quiet life reshoeing horses and fixing farm equipment for the local farmers. He spent his free time tending a garden of herbs and talking nonsense to his horse, Edgar.

She watched as Kadren began to close up his shop for the evening, just as he always did. She had delayed the inevitable for three days, but she could delay no more. He must die, and he must die tonight.

She pulled out her dagger and silently slipped down from the loft. The shop was set up in such a way that she had been able to slip into a back entrance earlier in the day and had hid in the loft, watching Kadren while he worked. The interior of the store was laid out with half of the forge inside, while the other half was outside. The design was meant to allow someone to work comfortably in both winter and summer.

She crept up behind the unsuspecting smith as he was putting his tools away, she was just about to grab him and slit his throat when he turned very suddenly and tackled her to the ground, wresting the dagger from her grasp.

Sin was too surprised to be able to respond, so all she could do is watch in shock as he pulled back a huge fist and hit her repeatedly in the face, dazing her even more. Her vision blurred as he leaned back again, lifted her dagger with both hands and brought the blade down with quite a bit of force. She cried out in pain. Fortunately for her, this was the exact reason she wore a chainmail shirt under her leather jerkin. The chainmail had deflected the blow just enough to miss her heart. Pity.

The adrenaline that filled her body from being injured allowed her to strike a well placed blow to Kadren's nose with the heel of her palm, temporarily blinding him and allowing her to throw him off balance and maneuver her body from under his. The blow also had the added bonus of causing Kadren to drop her dagger. She dove for it, rolled and still managed to land on her feet as graceful as a cat.

Sin's heart was pounding in anticipation now. She crouched, waiting for the inevitable blows to come.

They didn't.

That was when Sin finally noticed that Kadren wasn't staring at her anymore. Well, not her face anyway; he was staring at her chest, her left breast having been bared for all and sundry to gape at during their struggles.

"Oh, for the love of-" she muttered as she pulled the leather up to cover her breast. She looked back up and glared at Kadren in annoyance at his being so easily distracted by the sight of a mere breast.

'I wasn't... I mean I was, but not at that," Kadren stuttered, his face turning an unattractive shade of red. "I was staring at that mark," he gestured at the upper portion of her chest, "I've seen it before."

Sin glanced down at the angry red scar that resided on her chest, over her heart. She looked back up at Kadren in disbelief, her hazel eyes narrowing in suspicion, "What do you know about it?"

"I know it's a curse," Kadren began slowly, "I know it means you are enslaved to another's will."

"So, you know that I don't have a choice but to kill you," she whispered, preparing to spring and end this confrontation. She had grown weary of talking, preferring action over words.

"Wait!" Kadren held up a hand and his brown eyes pleaded with her, "I know someone who can remove it," he blurted out before she could make good on the implied threat of her last statement, "Please, I could take you to him and once the mark is gone, you would be free."

Sin stopped short, her eyes flashing bright blue for a moment. "What?" she asked, as if the possibility of her being freed from the curse had never occurred to her before.

"So you're saying you know someone who could help me?" Sin thought it sounded too good to be true, but she couldn't help but feel like Kadren might be telling the truth. His reaction to seeing her mark had been too spontaneous, too genuine to be a farce.

Besides, he couldn't have known offering her a chance to be free was the only reason she would risk the wrath of the elders and her father by disobeying their orders and sparing his life.

"Take me to this person" she demanded, relaxing her stance and putting her dagger away in its sheath.

Kadren nodded quickly, his relief at her agreeing to spare his life evident, "I'll start making arrangements for my apprentice to run the shop while I'm away," he turned and walked over to the wall where he hung his cloak and started grabbing his supplies in preparation of leaving, still muttering under his breath.

She had never been prone to being impetuous before, but Sin had to admit even she felt the stirrings of hope inside her heart as she realized her most longed for dream might actually be within reach. She decided whatever the outcome, she had to know if it was even possible to be free.

"Wait, Kadren," her voice stopped him, "It's already too late to start out tonight, so we should meet here first thing in the morning. That should give you plenty of time to make the necessary arrangements and gather supplies."

He conceded to her good sense, "Of course."

Without warning, he felt the tip of what he could only assume was Sin's dagger digging into his back, "And Kadren," her voice was a mere whisper in his ear, chilling him to the bone, "You had better be here in the morning. I found you once, don't think I can't do it again."

Just as suddenly, Sin was gone. Kadren sighed in relief.

The next morning, Sin gathered her meager belongings, retrieved her horse from the stable she'd boarded him at and made her way over to the smith where Kadren was waiting for her. He was standing next to his horse, Edgar, talking to him under his breath as he normally did.

Sin felt awkward as she greeted Kadren. She was not good with people as she had never had friends before. Making small talk had never been a priority and her training had left her ill-equipped to understand social niceties.

"Where are we going?" Sin wondered as she lead her horse over to stand beside Edgar.

When an answer wasn't forthcoming, Sin turned her attention from petting Edgar to Kadren, who refused to meet her questioning golden brown eyes.

"Where are we going?" she tried again, this time emphasizing certain words to get her point across.

She watched Kadren's body language as he sat there debating himself about what he should tell her. When he finally turned to her and opened his mouth, she knew he wasn't going to tell her anything, but she wasn't prepared for what he did say.

"Look, I am putting someone's life at risk. I can't tell you where we are headed and I can't tell you their name either," he regarded her silently for a moment before continuing, "I need you to understand what's a stake, I need you to understand I am risking my life for someone who hasn't even told me their name yet," he chided her none too gently.

He was right, she knew it. However, she was annoyed just the same because he was being reasonable and she didn't want to be reasonable. She hated sharing information about herself with anyone, even if that person seemed trustworthy or well intentioned.

She gave in to the childish urge to roll her eyes at him, "You can call me Sin," she told him curtly, not because she was angry, but because she didn't want to talk about her name beyond what it was. It was not a subject she liked to delve into with anyone, especially strangers.

The look Kadren gave her said See? That wasn't so hard, was it?

"I like it, it suits you," he told her before turning back to Edgar so he could finish readying the horse for their journey.

Sin was glad he turned away when he had and didn't see the look on her face in response to his compliment. She felt weak for allowing herself to feel anything at all. She determined to keep her feelings in check for the rest of the time she traveled with Kadren. She could not afford to let her guard down no matter how well intentioned Kadren seemed.

"We should get going soon," Sin tried to busy herself, to distract herself from her troubling emotions, "And just so we're on the same page, no roads and no fires after dark, got it?"

Kadren nodded, "Probably for the best," he agreed as he finished tightening Edgar's saddle and finally mounted his horse.

For the next week, Kadren lead them north, out of the Kingdom of Faerden and into the Kingdom of Chancia. Where Faerden was more rolling hills and lush farmland, Chancia was dense forests and impassable mountains.

Sin had learned Kadren was as adept at keeping secrets when he chose as she was. She knew he was keeping something vital from her, she just wasn't sure what it was. It made her think he knew more about what was happening than she did, which put her at a disadvantage. Something she didn't like and wasn't used to.

Since entering Chancia, Sin had noted they were traveling more northeast now. She had an idea where they might be headed, but she had since stopped trying to get Kadren to give up information about their destination. She had learned very little from him and it seemed as if Kadren planned for it to stay that way.

She had also managed to keep her own secrets, never having been one for idle chatter anyway. Kadren liked to sing or tell stories to pass the time. Sin might have even tried to glean more about his past if all of his songs and stories weren't about bawdy tavern wenches. She had resigned herself to waiting, after all, Kadren had promised that he would tell her what he could when it was safe.

After traveling for about ten days, Sin was certain she knew what their destination was: the Sunset Cliffs.

The Sunset Cliffs had a reputation for being treacherous and uninhabitable by humans. The cliffs had been formed from the brightest yellow, orange and red clay sediment thousands of years before, the layers of differing color giving off the impression one was staring at a sunset instead of the face of a sheer rock wall. The effect was even more lovely during a sunrise or sunset. Sin had heard stories of the cliffs but had not yet seen them for herself.

She figured at the rate they were traveling, they would reach the cliffs in another three days. However, they had run low on supplies and agreed to stop in the next town to stock up again, which would delay them by another half day.

Luckily for them, there was a little seaside village called Still Harbor, a few miles to the east. It was small and not too out of the way, but it would have what they needed, Kadren assured her. Sin agreed they should go.

As they rode eastward, as if on cue, Kadren began extolling her with facts about their current destination.

"There's this hole in the wall tavern called the Gull, it used to be just west of the docks. Best clam chowder I ever had, made by the crustiest old sailor you ever met named Cookie."

"Perhaps that's where we should meet as soon as we have restocked our supplies. I think it would be wise to split up while we are in town to draw less attention to ourselves," Sin told him, feeling suddenly very uneasy about this excursion.

Kadren was agreeable to her plan. He nodded and told her he would enter by the southern gate and meet her no later than sundown at the tavern he'd told her about earlier.

They parted ways, with Sin continuing down the current road and Kadren riding off to the south so he could circle back and enter from the other gate.

Trying to shake off her apprehension, Sin told herself she was being childish. It was very unlikely another cultist could have tracked them this quickly. They had stayed away from the roads as much as possible, they hadn't lit a fire at night. This was their first trek into a populated area since they had left Thornvale. Unless there was something Sin had missed, there was very little risk involved.

Less than an hour later, Sin had ridden into town, made her way to the closest general store and purchased the supplies she had needed. Mostly arrows, candles and a few days worth of rations. Things she had neglected to pick up before leaving Thornvale.

As Sin was leaving the shop, a blond woman wearing a bright blue dress and matching white-blue eyes was entering. The lady in blue smiled brightly at Sin, who tried to keep her face down, but she had put the hood of her cloak down while talking to the shop keeper earlier. She smiled politely back at the woman and then grabbed her hood to pull over her head as she left the shop. Her blue-green eyes darted around quickly as she stepped away from the door of the shop and made her way down towards the docks.

The sun was just beginning to set when Sin finally walked into The Gull. She had spent most of the afternoon exploring the village, and trying to shake any potential tails, as she couldn't shake this feeling from earlier that there was danger nearby.

She found Kadren sitting near the back wall of the tavern, facing the door. There were already several other patrons sitting in various tables around the room, but it was still early, so there were plenty of empty tables. Without thinking, Sin made her way over to a table next to Kadren's. She didn't sit with him for the same reason she had spent hours walking in circles around Still Harbor.

If he was surprised, Kadren was good at hiding it. He didn't react to her not sitting with him. She wondered if he had also sensed the same thing that had her hackles up.

A serving girl wandered over a few minutes later to see what Sin wanted. Sin decided to order dinner and some ale. She said her name was Ruby. She was young and pretty, with silky brown hair, big brown doe eyes and a smattering of freckles that dotted across her nose and cheeks. A dimple on her right cheek appeared when she smiled at Sin.

After the serving girl checked on Kadren, who declined more ale, she scampered back to the kitchen.

Sin studied the other people in the tavern, hoping to soothe whatever had her feeling like a paranoid fool. There was an old sailor off to her left, sitting at the bar, mumbling drunkenly to himself. A couple in a far corner, putting their affection for each other on display. There was a young boy, probably barely old enough to venture off on his own, sitting by himself and staring off into the depths of his cup.

Sin could find nothing out of the ordinary with the current patrons. Even after her food arrived and she continued to watch as the tavern began filling with all the usual types. No one stood out to her. No one seemed to be paying more attention to her or Kadren than the food and drink in front of them.

It didn't matter, she couldn't make the feeling go away.

She finished her meal quietly, paid her debt and made sure to catch Kadren's eye as she began to head to the door. He got up, threw a few coins on the table to cover the ale he'd drank and headed to the door a few steps behind Sin.

It was fully dark by this time and as soon as Kadren set foot out of the door, Sin grabbed his arm and pulled him into a shadowed alleyway.

"I don't like the feel of this place, we need to go now," Sin hissed at Kadren.

Kadren didn't say anything, just nodded in understanding and together, they gathered their horses, mounted and rode out of the village together.

Once Sin felt they were a safe distance away, Sin pulled her horse to a halt and waited for Kadren to do the same.

"Did you notice anything amiss in Still Harbor?" she asked.

Kadren sighed, "No I didn't, but I also did not like the feeling I got while we were there. We should put as much distance between us and this place as possible. Are you ok to ride through the night?"

Sin nodded, "Yes, I don't think I could rest until we are far away from here anyway."

They rode north until exhaustion made them stop. The sun had already risen and passed it's zenith by the time they stopped. Sin could barely keep her eyes open, Kadren kept yawning loudly. Neither of them were in any shape to continue.

They found an outcropping of rocks that formed a shallow cave that could offer them some protection while they rested. Sin could barely focus on laying out the bedding while Kadren made sure the horses were out of sight of anyone who might ride by.

As soon as Sin stretched her body out on her bedding, she felt her eyes close and her mind drifted off as she fell asleep.

Suddenly Sin was staring at a familiar pair of golden yellow eyes.

The dread she felt in the pit of her stomach at seeing those eyes again made her will crumble. She heard his voice reminding her that he owned her.

"You're mine," his voice slithered along her spine, causing the mark over her heart to burn. "You will always be mine."

She wanted to pull away, wanted to cry out that it wasn't true, but Sin couldn't move. He controlled her body and only he could allow her to move again.

"No matter where you try to run, child, I will find you," her father's voice crashed against her, burning his words into her mind.

No! She wanted to deny that he had that kind of power over her. She felt a scream building inside of her as she struggled to regain control of herself. It built until the dam that was holding it back burst and the she felt the word NO break from her lips.

Sin opened her eyes and realized she was standing over Kadren while a familiar looking woman was restraining him. She had her dagger in her hand and it was raised as if she had been about to stab it into Kadren's heart.

The hazy feeling that lingered in Sin's mind cleared almost instantly as she realized what had happened. She also recognized the woman as the lady in blue from Still Harbor.

"You. I should have known you were a cultist," Sin pointed her dagger at the intruder and launched herself over Kadren's shoulder at her, feeling a sense of satisfaction as the woman's white-blue eyes widened in shock just before Sin's body slammed into hers. The dagger tore into the other woman's stomach, but she rolled away just as the dagger pierced her flesh, avoiding a more serious injury.

Rolling in the opposite direction of her opponent, Sin noted Kadren had also managed to get free of his bonds and had pulled the short sword he had carried on him since the morning they left Thornvale together and was pointing in the woman's direction.

With Sin and Kadren both blocking the cave's entrance, the woman had no choice but to fight.

She was smaller than Sin, her hair platinum blond and her skin very pale. In the dim light of the cave, she glimmered like the spectre of death. She started laughing as she stared at Sin intently, her eyes seeming to see into Sin's very soul.

"Father knows everything," her words were directed at Sin, taunting her.

"I will be free of him," Sin retorted sharply. "Either in this life or in death."

That made her laugh all the more. "You can't escape him, even if you die, you will just be reborn and because that mark stains your very soul, you will never be able to escape him," the words trailed off into hysterical laughter.

"Enough!" Kadren didn't see any value in continuing this discussion, but as soon as the word left his mouth, the woman's attention turned to him and she began cackling with renewed glee.

And you," she pointed a finger at him, "You will die, Father won't stop until he holds your cold heart in his hands. How sad that Rheyce could save you from this fate, but we both know he's too much of a coward to come out of hiding."

Before either Sin or Kadren could react, the woman pulled out a dagger from some hiding place and plunged it into her stomach and fell to the ground, still chortling weakly and mumbling about Father.

"We should go. If she can find us, that means other can as well," Sin told Kadren as she stared absently at the woman as she bled out.

"Let's go," Kadren agreed as he began gathering his bedding. Sin watched as the light finally faded from the cultist's white-blue eyes before joining him in gathering her bedding as well.

Kadren went to grab the horses from their hiding place and just before Sin left the cave, she cast a final glance at the woman lying dead in a pool of her own blood, her dagger still sticking out of her stomach.

The sun was beginning it's descent in the sky as Sin and Kadren rode away from the cave as if demons were after them.

Sin couldn't help but give Kadren a surreptitious look from where she sat on her horse. Was Rheyce the person who could free her? She knew she had never heard the name before, but for some reason, she felt her heart begin racing after hearing the name and she felt like there was something on the tip of her tongue that she should remember, but couldn't

"How much farther, Kadren?" Sin had to yell the question as the coastal wind whipped around her face and the horses galloped down the rocky beach that stretched on for as far as the eye could see.

"Another day at most," Kadren yelled back.

Sin nodded. Wherever they were going, whoever they sought, Sin knew she would find her answers there.