Return to The Gates of Paradel Chapter One

The Gates of Paradel

Author: Crazed Attourney
Rating: R for sex, violence and bad language.
Disclaimers: The Buffy characters all belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and other luckier (and richer) people and organisations than myself, all used without permission but I am making no money whatsoever from this at all.
Author's Notes: Apologies this has been a very, very long time coming - I will pick up speed I promise. My muse went missing (that rascally muse) but for the moment appears to have returned!!

Gabrielle's Farm, Atena's Isle, Amazon Isles - 27 years earlier

Arturo watched with horror and fear filled fascination as the strange reptilian monster leapt overhead and into the nearest group of slaves - he couldn't see what was happening but he could hear the screams and a dull, wet wrenching. His struggles against the dead weight of his mother's body grew increasing desperate as the he felt a thick warm liquid mix into his hair.

The body was suddenly lifted from him, and his world suddenly became two burning red eyes surrounded by black scales.

Something wet flicked against his skin, and he could smell dank, rotting flesh on the monsters hot, damp breath.

Desperately his hands scrabbled amongst the dirt looking for something, anything that would make those eyes disappear.

Suddenly, they scrapped against something sharp and rough and with a bellow, somewhere between fear and rage, he slammed the splinter into one of the monster's eyes.

It reared up in pain; a horrific high-pitched scream filled the barn, as the monster desperately scratched at the searing pain in its head. Its thick white blood flowed freely along it's black scales - the scream faltered as it stumbled backwards it's large, awkward claws driving the thin splinter deeper into its own brain. And then, finally it stopped and let out a fearful, pitiful whimper before bursting into flames.

Arturo gagged as ash filled his mouth and burned at his eyes, but he was free. Almost instinctively he wrenched his mother's bow from her hands and left the dorm. He had to force himself not to look around or to give into the tears that stung his cheeks - he couldn't hear anything in the dorm apart from his own shallow breaths.

Roland's Digs, the Port of New Hope

"Red, 'as she quieted down?" The mercenary asked quietly as Willow quietly closed the door behind her.

The redhead nodded, "eventually - I don't think she had anything left."

"Pity - you fi..." Roland's words tailed off as a deep frown formed on his brow, do you here that Red? He mouthed; as he began to move silently from his perch on the banister. Willow cocked her head to one side, letting her senses take over - she nodded, pointing to a nearby door from which she could hear a set of small scratches.

Roland directed her silently, as they moved to brace the doorway - the door creaked opened slowly and as it began to close again Willow made a series of short gestures - the mercenary nodded his approval and held up three fingers.

The redhead slammed into the door - it barely moved as she blinked in surprise, her brow creasing in an unspoken question as the door exploded.

Arturo stepped nervously out of the barn - his awkward steps a pale imitation of a warrior's movements as the huge bow trembled in his hands and the heavy quiver of arrows bounced painfully against his legs. And then he saw it - a huge Treelaird, the huge tree-like demon towered above the farmhouse, its huge arms covered in braches and moss pounded the main house as the strange reptilian monsters used its body to swarm into the now dark windows.

Occasionally arrows caught the invaders and struck the huge wooden monster, but they were too few to make the assault even pause for a moment.

He struggled to raise the heavy longbow - its thick patterned bow barely fit into his small teenage hands and his thin, underfed muscles quickly began to tremble with pain as he struggled to balance the arrow and pull the string back.

The string tore free from his grip sending the arrow clattering uselessly into the ground - ignoring the searing pain and the blood that began to cover his raw fingers he cocked another arrow.

Willow began to leap and twist away from the door just as it began to disintegrate - she could feel the tiny splinters batter her armour and bare skin as she moved, using the force of the explosion to aide her own momentum and safety. She landed awkwardly, her bruised shoulder was barely able to support her and so her graceful roll turned into scrambled stumble onto her knees.

"You's 'kay Re...fuck!" Roland squeaked as a scimitar slammed into the plaster just above his head - reaching up the mercenary tore the robed figure's hand from the blade as it struggled to free it from the wall. Pulling downwards the figure's hidden face collided with Roland's elbow with a sickening crunch.

The figure twitched once as it fell to the floor, and Willow winced as Roland calmly pushed a small dagger into the base of its skull before freeing the scimitar for himself. "Red - chek'n Blondie, I'll do ou''ere." And with barely a nod she moved back into Roland's rooms, and was immediately confronted by the sight of the blonde aristocrat struggling desperately with two more robed figures.

She said a silent prayer of thanks to the Goddess that they continued to ignore her until her shoulder and fists struck.

The muscles in Arturo's arms screamed in agony, it was a pain worse than any flogging or beating he'd ever received, it was as his blood had turned to fire - but still he continued to pull back on already taught string.

The bow and its deadly cargo trembled violently in his hands; he could barely aim as his eyes were blinded by tears, but at that moment only firing the arrow mattered.

He continued to draw the bow - the wood creaked and the arrowhead pricked his thumb, and he let it fly.

The arrow flew - it was shaky and awkward, but it flew. Somehow it missed the huge tree demon, flying through the gap between demon and the farmhouse - but it struck one of the reptilian demons as it leapt, and it became a burning touch as fell.

Whips cracked as wood and demon screamed - the Treelaird turned towards him.

"Ya's two look like shit," Roland chuckled around the thin dark cigarette at his lips, a look of a quiet enjoyment spread across his features as he took a long, deep breath. "Wan' one? Matey's gotta few ter spare." And with a happy wink, he offered up a full pack to the two women, tapping a nearby body indicating his benefactor.

He chuckled when the Amazon blanched, but the aristocrat helped herself, it deepened when Brianna choked on the harsh, heavy smoke.

"That is vile." She sneered as she took a second, but less heavy smoke.

"Nah luv - an ack-wired taste," he chuckled happily, but his manner changed abruptly as he reached down and exposed one of the attackers faces. "Know 'im?"

Both Willow and Brianna shook their heads, and Roland shrugged his heads ruefully before he roughly ripped the robe away from the body's shoulders. "Does yer know wot dey is?" On the shoulder was the tattoo of a pyramid with an eye at its centre surrounded by the four phases of the moon.

Again Willow shook her head, but Brianna frowned as she nodded, "it looks like the symbol of the Luna Disciples."

"Aye or de Bruvahud of der Serp'nt - funny dat." Roland spat nastily, "I fink it's time ta get yer Birdy back Red an' get outta town 'kay?" Willow nodded silently, she might not have recognised the symbol, but she knew that it belonged to the Cult that now controlled the Deltas around New Hope and the Criminal Guild that had followed in its wake. "Ya's up for's'it Blondie?"

"I believe so." Brianna answered unconvincingly.

"Purfict - grab sum weapons an' we's off," he crowed with an energetic clap of his hands, "Red, if it 'elps I fink I gotta bow'n'staff round 'ere."

The Sailor's Hope Inn

"Aaah...thanks luv," Roland winked at the waitress as he eased himself down onto the nearby bench. "By der Gods - it's been too long."

With the coming of the day's end, the Inn had been transformed - the quiet almost bland three-storey building had become a scene of abandoned revelry and from the Inn's upper bar the three of them had a clear view of the chaos. The Inn unable to contain the huge throng of people that packed its walls had spilled over into its courtyard all served by a large bar that had replaced almost an entire wall and entertained by the jaunty tunes of a band that occupied one of the Inn's many balconies. And the sights, sounds and smell of the heaving bar mixed to create a lively, jumbled din that assaulted all a persons senses.

"Tis grand ain't'it?" Roland chuckled at the bemused expressions his companions had held since they'd entered the bar.

"This isn't going to work," Brianna said firmly at which Willow nervously nodded her agreement.

"Aye 't'will luv," Roland disagreed firmly.

"Have you seen this place?" Brianna asked shrilly.

"I am sittin' 'ere luv," the mercenary drawled sarcastically, "wot's yer problem?"

"Have you seen this place?" Brianna asked again in the same tone.

"Aye luv - tis perfict," Roland winked disarmingly, "now arfta gettin' a good seat I'm gonna 'ave sum suppa and a wee bevie." He stated waving to a nearby waitress, grateful that the Inn's second floor was a little more civilised and quieter than its riotous main floor. "Anyhows don't worry sa'much - it'll be fine."

The second level of the Inn was sign significantly quieter than the chaotic bar area, and a series of small fires and candles across the floor gave it a civilised air. And by the time Roland contentedly pushed away his plate, the deepening darkness and the chill wind from the nearby coast had driven most of the customers to their homes and the roar from the bar seemed barely a distant rumble.

"Ain't long now Red," the mercenary warned softly as he finished his drink, nodding at the staff that were placing bright candle with a glass globe with a dull white flame on each of the bar's tables.

"W-what happens now?" The Amazon stammered awkwardly, nervously rubbing at the calluses on her hands.

"Well luv, yer turn ya candle blue," Roland twisted a small knob on the newly delivered ball, and the dull flame turned a surprisingly bright blue within its glass home, "an' dey come 'long an' take ya order, and yer money."

"You seem very knowledgeable about this Roland?" Brianna teased lightly, like the mercenary she'd managed to eat the Inn's simple but filling food as opposed to the nervy Amazon who'd merely shunted her food from one side of her plate to the other and back again.

Roland shrugged, "I'm'a solja luv an' where solja's go 'hores ter be sure ter folla - way fings work."

"Just like that?" Brianna sneered nodding towards a young man being led away by a woman in grey with the distinctive red sash.

"Aye luv - just like dat," Roland answered softly, "an' dere be nought 'rong wiv it luv. In rest of Westliegh all Red's Birdy'd do is 'and in 'er sash an' take 'er stubs from der Guild and dat'd be dat." Roland shook his head ruefully as he spoke. "Dat's wot der Guild's fer - like me own Mercies Guild, but dis ain't no Guild bar - der no levy, no penshun, no docta...hell der 'ven be no dat's why its gonna end in a barnie." Silence quickly followed in the wake of the mercenary's softly spoken words.

"Can I be'a 'elp 'ere?" A woman in a dark dress with a bright blue sash asked brightly, interrupting the dark silence that hovered over the table.

"Not me luv...'er," Roland grinned softly nodding towards Willow.

"Oh I'm 'fraid we ain't got no chaps 'ere luv," the woman answered automatically, turning slightly to move away from the table.

"Dat's good luv, she ain't afta one," Roland winked evilly.

"Well den - do yer's 'ave one in min..." The Hostess begun without missing a single beat.

"Yes...T-tay...Ta'pha - the felinitas girl," Willow interrupted in a nervous, breathless rush.

"'Kay," the woman said brightly, hardly missing a beat at the redhead's interruptions.

"See told'ja it'd be 'kay," Roland encouraged happily, but his eyes never left the Hostess as she was interrupted by a bouncer.

Roland began to hum happily along with the Inn's band, his head rocked slightly out of step with the music, and he could feel the hazy warmth growing in his mind from the golden, honey-like ale.

"Can'a get'cha 'nother 'round?" The Hostess asked softly as she returned to the table.

"Wot 'bout Red's'order?" Roland asked quickly, his voice held the slightest hint of a slur.

"I'm'a 'fraid Tay's wiv'a client at der moment - shouldn't be long thou," the woman answered breezily, "so would'ja like 'nother drink?"

"Aye luv - dat would'b grand," Roland answered quickly, lurching forward to throw his arms around Willow's shoulders. "Won't it Red?"

The redhead nodded through clenched teeth, fighting to keep the pain from her face under the mercenary's vice-like grip and with Brianna's heels buried in her feet. Causing the Hostess' smile froze slightly in confusion at their actions.

"Keep still," Brianna hissed in Willow's ear.

"Aye luv - just a wee bit longa," Roland reassured from her other side.


"Erm I'm 'fraid der's a problem," the Hostess' return interrupting Willow.

"Eh?" Roland turned quickly, annoyance crinkling his brow.

"I'm sorry, but Tay's nay workin' t'nite - can I get yer..." The Hostess squeaked as Roland suddenly pressed a small but wickedly curved blade into her neck.

"Where she be den luv?" The slur had disappeared from Roland's voice, as beside him Brianna and Willow were already moving, pulling out their weapons.

"Wha...wha..." And as the Hostess stuttered with fear, one of the bar's hulking bouncer's began to move towards them. None of the three women saw Roland move, but they saw the bouncer collapse Roland's knife buried in his chest.

"Where she be?" Roland snarled his eyes bright with anger and focused on the Hostess, ignoring the mayhem that was enveloping the bar.

"F-Fird f-fl-floor, r-r-room t-t-t-two..."

"Ta luv," Roland growled; driving his fist into her stomach and jaw, leaving the Hostess to slump unconscious to the floor. "Red, get 'er," he barked.

Willow felt herself growl in frustration as she pushed through the growing crowd. Prostitutes and their clients reacting to the screams from the upper bar and were adding to the panic-filled bedlam as the scrambled to escape the fighting.

Her growl became a shout when Tay's door barely trembled against its hinges as her fist battered against it. "Fuck it," she spat under her breath and stepping back, she put all her weight into a heavy kick to the door.

Wood and metal groaned in protest, but the door stubbornly clung to its hinges.

Willow brought her leg up a second time, and bracing herself against the wall she threw herself forward. She let out a yelp of triumph as, this time, the door broke.

"Tay...Ta..." Her lover was tied naked to the room's bed; her face and body were covered in a patchwork of fresh bruises and cuts. Two men hovered over her, one kneeling on the end of the bed while the second stood nearby wiping himself with a tattered shirt, both were naked.

All four of them looked on in a stunned silence. Willow moved first, the world turning silent as her bow moved without thought; her mouth filled with feathers as she tore a fletch to shreds and pulling back the bowstring she let her arrows fly.

At almost point blank range the force of two arrows striking snatched the man from the bed and into the wall, from where he hung like a broken dull.

The second man threw the shirt at Willow as he attempted to dive behind the bed, only to see it jerk back at him, caught in an arrow's flight.

The arrow shattered his shoulder as it struck, slamming him against the wall. Tears of pain and fear stung his cheeks as he turned towards the sharp groan of wood and tight 'string; for the briefest of moments his world was filled with the imperfections of an arrowhead.

Willow shrugged the bow over her shoulders, as she took deep gulping breaths trying to ease the burning anger that engulfed her.

Finally, it was a tiny whimper from Tay that brought her crashing back to earth.

"Oh Goddess," the redhead muttered over and over again; desperately using an arrowhead to tear through the bindings at Tay's wrists and feet. Willow quickly wrapped her lover's battered form in one her attacker's discarded cloaks. The Amazon could find no words as she delicately pulled the Demoness against her, and led her quietly from the room.

The prostitutes' rooms lived on a large balcony surrounding the upper bar, and from this vantage point Willow let out a grasp of surprise at what she saw: Roland was crumpled against the bar, unconscious or worse and Brianna was desperately clutching a broken sword in her hands as she desperately tried to keep something between herself and Eric, the landlord.

Tay let out a terrified whimper as she saw the hulking form of Eric, in his hands was a huge multi-headed whip that he continually and violently flicked at Brianna. Somehow the aristocrat seemed to avoid the attacks, but each drove her backwards, and it was only a matter of time before she ran out room.

Gently Willow lowered Tay to the ground, "wait here love," she whispered softly, gently running her fingers across a tiny thread of unbroken skin on the other girl's cheek.

"N-no...N-no..." Tay stammered in panic, her voice hoarse with pain "d-don't...d-d-d-d-don't..."

"I have to," Willow responded gently as she stood.

"P-p-p-p-please," Tay all but screamed; her voice almost hysterical.

"I have to," Willow repeated firmly, almost coldly. But instead of moving away, she drew her bow once again. Through the eyes of an arrow the world is a blur, everything moves as if caught in water and every sound is a dull murmur of nothingness. It is just the arrow and its destination - and then as it flies the world returns to normal, a chaotic rush of sight and sounds, before disappearing as the next arrow is drawn.

Willow barely heard Eric roar of pain and anger as an arrow buried itself into his shoulder.

Arturo lost himself in the bow and desperately tried to ignore the pain in his arms and the fear in his belly as the Treelaird turned towards him. He focused on drawing back the bowstring letting the arrow's fletch tickle his skin before letting fly.

He barely felt excitement as this time the wobbly flying arrow struck the monster, but as he drew back the bowstring again it felt easier, whilst the pain and fear seemed suddenly far away.

The arrow flew steady this time, striking the Treelaird's knotted face.

The bow began to grow heavy in Willow's hands, and her muscles burned as fear clawed its way into her mind. Her arrows covered Eric's chest and back but still he kept on coming, he was moving slowly, unsteadily but like a monster from a childhood nightmare he still kept on coming.

Tay was crying openly beside her, her head covered by the cloak as she tried to hide from the monster before them.

Eric had reached the foot of the stairs, and she was running out of arrows.

" protect me from harm, mistress hear my prayer..." Arturo mumbled barely remembered words. He was hardly able to keep himself upright, as fear and pain had engulfed him - his arrows barely left the bow falling limply to the ground. The Treelaird was almost upon him, he could fell the ground tremble under its heavy footsteps and he could hear the wild, manic cries of the demons that drove it forward...

...And then he was warm and unafraid, standing on an unknown battlefield surrounded by noise, flame and chaos, but yet he was still and calm. An arrow burned in his bow, but he stilled his hand as panic would rob him of the perfect moment, his target seemed both distance and near, the angry shouts of his enemies were nothing in his mind. And then the moment came with a flicker of movement and a sigh...

...The arrow leapt from his bow, bursting into flame as it struck the Treelaird. For a briefest moment the flames disappeared before erupting upwards and outwards, engulfing the monster and its handlers in seconds.

The Demons screamed in agony as the flames ripped them apart.

"A-A-Arturo...Arturo?" He could barely make out a woman's voice calling his name as if from a great distance, the night was suddenly turning red laced with a comforting darkness. He couldn't feel the arms that caught him.

Willow she collapsed to the ground, barely having the strength to place herself between Tay and danger; Eric had reached them and her last arrow had buried itself deep but uselessly into his chest. Willow took a deep breath and stared hatefully into his tiny, black eyes; determined to now show the fear within her.

The leather of his whip rustled as pulled his thick arm back, and Willow's eyes widened with surprise. Eric's eyes clouded with confusion as he stared at his numb, empty hands. He rocked and turned slightly as if unsure where he was. Eric let out a small half whimper, half angry growl as he turned back towards the two women, but his legs didn't move with him and he stumbled.

The barkeeper fell against the floor's railing; the wood groaned under his weight.

It collapsed.

Blindly, desperately he groped at nothing but it only hastened his fall. The Inn trembled as his great weight slammed into the dull wooden floor.

Free Winds House, the Port of New Hope

Unlike the loud, bustling Fighters Guild or the neighbouring Naval Yard, the Mistresses Guild was a picture of quiet, faded glory. Its comforting luxury was slightly frayed at its edges and the lilting incense that filled its rooms carried the faintest hint of burnt smoke.

"Can we not talk 'bout last nite - ever!" Roland grumbled loudly as he rubbed the knot on the side of his head.

"Why?" Brianna teased lightly, enjoying the mercenary's embarrassment. The aristocrat's laughter exploded around the waiting room at the pained, withering look that answered her. The disapproving looks that a nearby nurse and the well-dressed woman beside him threw at them, caused a hiccup of laughter to escape Roland's lips.

Roland's face reddened and twisted as he fought a losing battle against the laughter that started to shake his body. "I woz laid low by a 'king chair...dat I fell over...dat I fell over!" He cried out as laughter burst free.

"Is there something you wish to share?" A cool, precise voice cut threw the pair's laughing fit.

"A...A...Aye mate..." Roland's laughter died on his lips as he looked up at the tall, dignified man in front of him. The newcomer was dressed in the simple, but expensive, blue suit of a Guild worker with its waist tied with a deep red and gold edged sash. His hard, but handsome face was framed by dark hair speckled with grey and his cold blue eyes regarded Roland and Brianna with barely hidden contempt. "Tis nay 'portent, sir," Roland continued with a slight bow, as he dragged Brianna to her feet. "Sir, may I 'sent Lady Sildas and me humble self, Roland Fatcha'."

"A pleasure Mr Thatcher," the man nodded with a slight smile, pleased at the mercenaries old fashioned greeting, "I am Lars Merchant, Master of this house, and what service can we offer you?"

"The 'osp'tality you've shown tis 'nough sir."

"And what might that be?" Roland smiled at his question; he had not missed the rolled paper in his hand nor the young clerk that waited quietly behind Lars.

"The services of yer docta, and perhaps a wee bit auv food 'ter a long night," Roland answered slyly.

"Simple things Mr Thatcher, but what of your own Guild?" Lars asked with a smile.

"Tis a matter auv'a wee unpaid levy," Roland raised his hand to cut of any protest, "I gots de money, I just do nay wanna part wiv it."

"Surely it can't be that much?" In response the mercenary simply passed Lars the two squares of aged, darkened wood that hung about his neck. Lars' eyes widened as he examined them, the disapproval in his eyes quickly changed to a cautious respect. "How many years?"

"Good fif'teen years I fink."

"That would be a fair amount of money, which does not however explain why my doctors over your own." Lars questioned coolly.

Roland shrugged and let the game slip with a sorry sigh, "dey maybe good wiv cuts 'n' bruises, but not wiv other fings."

"Yes, of course," the cold blue eyes dimmed with sadness for a moment, "there will be no charges for the Demoness' treatment. Under normal circumstances I would be grateful for the ending of a thing such as the Sailor's Hope and say nothing further. Unfortunately, my husband is the Captain of the Rangers and he was here during your arrival and wishes to speak to you...James take these two to Abraham, he is waiting in my office." The silent and still clerk behind Lars sprung into life at his name, stepping forward with a polite, but firm wave of his arm.

"Come in, come in need ta stand on ceremony..." Unlike the worn decadence of the rest of the building the Masters' office was a bright, airy room and yet stark and impersonal: a room for simple business. And the man greeting them was the complete opposite to the distant Master - casually dressed, fit and handsome man with thick greying hair and a warm, easy smile. "Does yer wanna drink - tis a bit early, but af'ter last nite..."

"Everybody seems well informed about last night," Brianna grumbled.

"Well luv, 'twas not 'zacly a quiet fing." The Ranger laughed loudly, "Yer had'a barnie in de most pop'lar bar in town; killed de barman; and run off wiv one auv der 'hores."

"Put like dat...'haps me plan coulda been a wee bit sutla'." Roland chuckled in agreement.

"So what do you want?" Brianna growled.

"Angsty ain't she?" The man teased lightly, "and wot fine manner's dese norven nobs 'ave."

Beside her Roland joined in with the man's laughter, knowing full well that he was as informed as his husband, "Roland Fatcha' and aye I'll've dat drink."

"Brianna Silas," she growled.

"Dat's betta, A'brim Merch'nt," the Ranger's teasing tone quickly died, "and I'm 'fraid yer'll all 'ave ter need leave town an' quickly."

"But...!" Brianna screamed.

The Ranger held his hands up to ward off the coming storm. "Now I got nufin' 'gainst wot yer did. Hell if I 'rested yer, me marriage an' me job wud vanish qwika dan a preacher's pants ina 'horehouse." Abraham chuckled ruefully, "but de Inn woz one der Bruva's, an dey'll be afta yer - real bad."

"But...but I can't leave...n-not yet..." Brianna whimpered.

"Its fer yer own safety luv," the Head Ranger sighed, "an' me guard can ney protect yer."

"An' wot else mate?" Roland asked softly.

The Ranger smiled ruefully, "we found yer warrant at de Hope...someone 'ad paid de Bruvas a lotta cash to kill blondie b'fore last nite..."

Roland could feel Brianna begin to cry beside him, and from the awkward look in the Ranger's eyes and face he knew what was coming. Abraham let out a deep sigh, "de'll be no 'elp from Westliegh luv - we've none ta give," he sighed sadly, "De war 'gainst Rochelle's a mess, dey got der Pallies now and wiv de Sisters and der Bruvahood next door." The Ranger shrugged, "we'll win, but we nuthin' ter spare."

"Nuffin 't'all?" Roland asked hopefully, resting his arm around the weeping Aristocract.

"I don' fink so mate...the Kingdom don't care, Rochelle is te busy and there ain't 'nuff Pallies who'll help..." He summed up sadly, "...but we'll pay fer Mr Fatcha' 'ere to get yer home an' I'll give yer one of me scouts...but luv dere be nuffin' more."

Tre Nagia, Atena's Isle, Amazon Isles - 27 years earlier

The ship's captain rubbed his eyes in annoyance, "look...we passenger ship..." he growled in awkward Amazon at the woman blocking his gangplank.

"He can work...he's strong...he's good with a bow..." The angry Amazon shouted, jabbing violently at Arturo with every word. The terrified, scrawny boy beside the Amazon began to cry under her assault, "...stop crying..." the woman snarled, striking him again.

The sailor's eyes darkened with pity as he watched the boy desperately wipe the tears away, only to make them worse and further smudging his filthy features further.

"Look I can pay...take him."

With a sigh he nodded, "okay...yes...I can cabin boy..."

"Thank the Goddess..." The Amazon sighed heavenwards, and roughly thrust the boy and a purse at the sailor as she turned round growling, "...his name is Arturo."

The Captain barely caught the boy and the heavy purse; angrily he rose to confront the Amazon only to find that she had disappeared into the dock's bustling crowd.

Eastern Gate, the Port of New Hope

"Ain't no worry, we'll 'quip yer..." Roland growled sarcastically as he prodded and prowled around the worn caravans that waited for them.

"It's not that bad is it?" Willow asked softly, gently clinging to a bandaged and cloaked Tay.

"Cud've been worse, but t'ain't nowhere near good...bloody cheapskates." Roland spat as he pulled a sword free and carried out a series of parries and thrusts.

"I think they were slightly taken with your bill." Brianna crowed as she rode up beside them.

"I maybe common luv, but I ain't cheap," Roland snapped, though he brightened as he looked at the horses Brianna had brought. "Now dese are wot I call an 'orse," he mumbled to himself as inspected the animals and their equipment.

"Why d'yer buy five?" Roland frowned as he looked up at aristocrat.

"There are five of us." The aristocrat answered as if Roland had lost his mind.

"Aye luv, but des an Amazon an'a Cat," Brianna deep frown caused the mercenary to role his eyes, and in response he merely pointed: Willow hung a stepped behind Tay, with the Demoness moving slower than her injuries allowed, as they approached the second caravan both looking terrified at the large, docile horse that lead it. "Show eva' an 'orse an' dey'll run 'king miles." Roland whispered.

"Fuck - I can't exactly give them back."

"Hand them in to the Rangers they might give you a better blade than that rubbish!" The voice held the smooth words of Westliegh's merchant class, but with the subtle rasping undertone. Both aristocrat and mercenary turned together to face the voice. Like most of the Dark Elf race, the Ranger was tall and thin; her deep black hair covered lightly pointed ears whilst framing dark, bronze skin which appeared to have been baked smooth by the sun. Black eyes sat against her thin, striking features. Neither the loose, dark green uniform of a scout nor the well kept blade and bow at her side did anything to hide the slender, lithe form beneath.

"Corporal Janna Innes at your service," the Ranger greeted with a bow.

"R-Roland Fatcha'"

"Brianna Silas."

"Excellent, can I take a horse?" Her black eyes sparkled with mischief as both Roland and Brianna nodded as one.

"Blondie?" Roland mumbled as he watched the Ranger leave; he felt rather than saw Brianna's nod. "I saw 'er first 'kay?"

The Westliegh Rose - 27 years earlier

It had been nearly nightfall when the huge, three hulled multi-mast ship had finally left Tre Nagia's lagoon. In the twilight of dusk it had seemed distant to Arturo, barely lit by firelight it was just a shadow in the night, so different from the noisy, lively city he'd seen just a few hours before. But even those familiar lights had now passed. And in the strangely bright darkness of the seat night, all that he could see of his home was a dark blur that hid the stars.

Arturo hugged the ship's mast, his skinned burned from the scrubbing he'd received and itched from the coarse, light blue uniform he wore, though he barely noticed as he watched Atena's Isle disappear into the distance. And the cold sea breeze took the heat from his tears and the endless creaking of the wooden ship stole the sobs from his lips.

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