((A/N: So uh... I'm wondering if anyone reads this... because I've gotten no faves or comments or anything... ;-; ))

"So Alex, what do you make of all this stuff going on in Kryta? With the White Mantle I mean. I find it odd to not hear from Dani for so long and then suddenly get asked to come help out with fighting. I mean, no visits or happy chit-chat? I find that rather rude. She could at least—"

"Devin, shut up!"

Two adventurers walked along the uneven dirt path that led from the small town of Beetletun in the northwestern section of Kryta towards Nebo Village. From there, they would have quite a long ways to go just to reach their destination of the Talmark Wilderness, a journey that had caused the male elementalist to complain considerably. The Cursed Lands and the Black Curtain, both sections of land that they would have to pass through, had gotten their rather unpleasant names for a reason. Despite all of Devin Sterling's bravado, he doubted their chances of making it through safely.

Standing a full foot taller than his monk companion, the elementalist actually looked rather intimidating in his current attire… at least if he didn't act like a fool all the time. His long, dark red and black robes trailed to the ground, the black cape behind him rising slightly with the slight breezes that flowed through the narrow passage between two small mountains. Devin's face was mostly hidden by his favored demon mask he had received a few years back during the Dragon Festival in Cantha, his dark brown eyes peering out from one of the two slits on the front. "Come on, you know I have a point," he prodded, his wooden staff with black wrappings and magical flames emanating from the tip resting on his shoulder. "She's your half-sister or something, right? Does she even go to Cantha just to say hi to you and spend some time visiting?"

"Honestly, Sterling, if you don't shut up I will shove my staff so far up your rear you're going to wish you were never born," Alexeldin Roivas hissed, a very annoyed glare on her face. She had spent the entire trip with Devin hearing his complaints and chatter, and it was getting to her. While the rather short monk looked anything but intimidating, her skill in smiting magic and temper spoke otherwise. To emphasize her point, she brandished her black steel staff, a token from defeating an undead creature during her trip to the Far Northern Shiverpeaks. Her own dark red outfit had been created by the Kurzicks, one of the two warring factions in her homeland that she sided with quite fiercely.

At this Devin cringed, taking a step away from his friend as they walked, knowing that she could be quite serious about the bodily harm she threatened to inflict. The thing about monks was that they could beat the living daylights out of a person, heal them, then repeat the process over again. "Are you really a monk? I thought that you guys were all supposed to heal and be peaceful and stuff." Instead of giving a verbal retort, Devin instead received a painful strike to the back of his head that very nearly sent him crashing face-first to the dirt. "Oww! What was that for!"

"Like I said, you're annoying. I'd almost rather Vekk's company to you. Even if he was a bit condescending, at least he didn't babble like an idiot."

Putting on a look of mock hurt (which was rather hidden by his mask), Devin playfully waved his staff at her while making sure to stay out of the way of any retaliatory blows again. "You don't have to be so mean you know. We're traveling companions, we'll be slaying dangerous monsters like living plants and stuff together on our quest to rendezvous with the savior of the world." Well, that last statement wasn't exactly a sarcastic one. Alexeldin's sister had been involved across continents helping with various problems… like the Lich Lord, Shiro Tagatchi, and the return of the fallen god Abaddon. But they had been right there with her, although Alex didn't join in on their adventures until they had traveled to Cantha.

Now that I think about it, she's always been sticking her nose into other peoples' business and helping them out. I suppose it's a good thing she did. We ended up making a lot of friends and a lot of enemies… but hey, I ended up meeting her sister among other things. If only she didn't utterly hate me, things would be good.

"I wouldn't be so mean if you could at least hold your tongue for more than a few seconds," she retorted, turning her head so sharply that her ponytail whipped through the air. "Ugh, how did I get stuck with you."

Allowing a slight smirk, Devin decided to drop his playful taunting. He didn't want to make her too angry at him, or else he would be in for a chiding from her older sister. However, his typical smirk fell away when he spotted a curious lot further on down the row. About six hulking brutes had the entire row blocked, a goon in attire Devin just knew had to belong to a bandit standing in the middle of them with a spear held in one hand and shield in the other.

"Now this looks like trouble."

"You have such an amazing and inspiring grasp of the obvious, Devin," Alexeldin snorted, tapping her staff against her right boot lightly. "These have to be the ones Danielle warned us about in her letter… thugs of the worst sort, the Peacekeepers."

"Even worse than the Jade Brotherhood and Am Fah? I somehow find that hard to believe. Should we just try to find another route around?"

Alexeldin scanned the area, frowning as she saw that the narrow passage offered absolutely no other way to go. And with them already in sight of the little road blockade, she doubted they would be allowed to just turn and walk away, especially since every eye was on them. "We won't be able to. They've already seen us. Just whatever you do, shut up and don't make any of your stupid, witty comments."

Devin had to hold his tongue to resist mentioning that was the first time she had really called his comments "witty", especially since this wasn't the time. While he was a powerful elementalist, his chances of holding up to muscular brutes thrice his size armed with bloodied hammers was slim to none. He could bring the pain, as he liked to say, but one good hit would take him down. "Right, right… hope your negotiation skills are better than your healing skills."

With a piercing glare, Alexeldin had to hold herself back from outright knocking the cocky elementalist out. She tried to appear casual as she walked down the dirt path, although her knuckles were white as she grasped her staff. When the two were just a few feet from the line of Peacekeepers, the leader held up his spear towards them and motioned for them to halt. "And just where do you think you're going?"

"We have business in Nebo Village, good sir," Alexeldin responded, trying to fake being polite as best as she could. She knew the Peacekeeper didn't care, a scowl on his pale face.

"Show me your travel permit."

Devin flinched and Alexeldin curled her free hand into a fist. A travel permit? They hadn't been aware they even needed one. The last time they had been here, they were free to travel but just had to avoid being spotted by the White Mantle who had seen the wanted posters. A lot had changed in Kryta since then.

And I see now why she warned us, too…

"A permit? We don't have permits. We've never needed them to travel in Kryta before."

A cruel laugh escaped from the goon's mouth as he lazily spun his lance. "Times change, and if you don't have a permit, we have permission to arrest you. However…" He rested the lance on his shoulder, a savage grin that sent chills up Devin's spine spreading across his face. "For one time only, we have a little deal. You give us all your gold, and we'll let you through."

"Our gold is our own, and even if we did have some, we wouldn't hand it over to cowardly bandits like you."

"Uh, Alex, maybe antagonizing them is not the best of ideas?" Devin questioned in a murmur, seeing the seething rage that overcame the goon.

"Think you're so tough, eh?" He took several steps forward, suddenly raising the spear to where the spearhead pressed against Alexeldin's throat. "Well then… how about I just have fun with you instead, you pretty little thing. Teach you a lesson in respect."

The two brutes flanking him suddenly grabbed Alexeldin by her arms, a startled cry escaping from her lips and setting Devin off. "Get your filthy hands off of her!" he roared, gathering up his energy to prepare to cast. Before he could, however, one of the enforcers cut him off with a powerful blow with his hammer that sent Devin crashing to the dusty ground. He gasped for air, feeling sharp pain in his chest with each struggle to breathe. He heard Alexeldin cry his name as he rolled over and forced himself to his hands and knees, coughing harshly. When he looked back he could see the head Peacekeeper standing right in front of his friend, his lance stuck in the ground while he grasped her chin roughly in his fingers. Although he couldn't see Alex's face, he could picture her disgust and loathing in his mind.

"Get… away from me!" she shouted, enraged. Her left hand motioned swiftly, a circle of blue light briefly surrounding the goon before he was knocked down with a grunt of pain. Caught off guard by her sudden use of Bane Signet, the two enforcers let go of her and went to help their leader back up. As quickly as she could she jumped back to where Devin had stumbled to his feet and stood hunched over. "Are you okay?"

"Think… something cracked," he grunted. "Please tell me you can heal." For once, Alex actually had a guilty and apologetic look on her face as she glanced at him silently. "You're a monk… and you don't know a single healing spell!"

"Shut up, okay! I'm not good at them, I prefer to smite my enemies with holy spells, so I never tried to learn them!"

Devin stared at the now-recovered Peacekeeper goon, feeling the heat of energy rushing through his body. "Then pray to Dwayna we can kill these guys before they kill us!" As one of the enforcers went to step towards him, Devin flung his arms forward. The effects were nearly instantaneous as the brutes body was immolated by red-hot flames, causing his allies to back away from his body as it collapsed to the ground. While they were caught off-guard and clumped together, Alexeldin spun her staff and pointed it forward, a ray of burning white light shining down. The muffled cries of the enforcer caught in the middle as he burned alive rose over the shouted orders, and as the two companions backed away, the remaining four enforcers charging towards them with a speed one wouldn't expect with their hulking size.

"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," Devin hissed under his breath, feeling exhaustion hit him from the sheer energy it took for his next spell. Flinging his arms forward, he watched in satisfaction as flaming meteors tore through the sky, slamming into the first pair of Peacekeepers. Their large bodies made the damage dealt from the meteor shower extra severe, the first collapsing with a gaping wound in his chest while the other was instantly killed with a strike to the head that pretty much obliterated it.

Meteor Shower. Does the trick every—


His head snapped up at the sound of his name, just as a white hot pain slashed through his side. He looked down in surprise, dropping his staff as he tried to staunch the rush of crimson blood that erupted. He hadn't even seen the lead goon throw his spear, but he sure as heck felt it. Backpedalling, Devin tried to put distance between himself and the remaining two enforcers, but he wasn't nearly fast enough. The closest brute hunched over and slammed into Devin with his gauntleted forearm, the jagged spikes digging into his flesh before he was brutally flung away. Sent rolling for several feet, he came to a stop a ways back from Alexeldin, coughing and wrapping his arms about his injured midsection.

Alexeldin knew she couldn't single-handedly take down these guys. Even if she was a powerful smiting monk, she was still not exactly the best of fighters. She swiftly spun and rushed over to her fallen friend, turning him over to examine his wounds. What she saw made the blood drain from her face.

Oh Dwayna, all this blood… if I don't do anything, he'll die!

Panic gripped her heart as she shot a backwards glance over her shoulder, the hulking enforcers now towering over her. Before she could make a move, the nearest one latched his massive hand around her right arm, twisting sharply to elicit a scream of pain and force her to drop her staff. Tears of pain in her eyes, she glared up at her captor before turning her attention to the head goon. His satisfied smirk sickened her, but that hungry look in her eyes changed her anger to fear.

"Tch, tch, tch… how naughty of you to try and fight back like that." He had his spear in hand once more, Devin's blood dripping slowly from the tip. "How about for a little lesson, I finish off your friend here? Maybe I can make him scream like a baby."

The helpless monk tried to pull free, but another twist and a dull snap made her cry out sharply, her body trembling. "N-No… don't… don't kill him, please," she tried to plead, even though part of her knew it was hopeless to try and reason with them. They were nothing more than bloodthirsty, soulless bandits.

"You should have thought of that before you crossed us, 'sweetie'," he answered, venom dripping in his words. He turned now to the fallen Devin, raising up his spear to finish the job.

Goddess Dwayna, please, help!

There was a dull thunk, shock on the goon's face before he pitched forward to the ground, a single arrow jutting from the back of his skull. Both of the enforcers looked at each other in confusion, not really aware of what had just happened. For being powerful brutes, they definitely weren't the brightest. A rain of arrows suddenly fell, piercing into the thick flesh of the Peacekeepers and causing both of them to roar in pain. Alex hit the ground with a thud as she was dropped, watching in amazement as arrow after arrow hit the brutes until they finally fell. Her hand instinctively went to her staff as she crouched protectively near Devin, looking back to make sure he was still alive. At this rate, he would need a healer soon, or he wouldn't pull through.

But who saved us…?

She lifted her gaze towards where the arrows had come from, noticing a group of people atop the hill. They had come out from a seemingly abandoned stone house, most of them clad in the uniforms of the Shining Blade. Most of them carried bows and were unfamiliar faces, but one woman was a person Alexeldin was rather familiar with. The Krytan was clad in a white dress with a peculiar "hood" rising up behind her head, her gray eyes drifting to the injured Devin with concern. That was Evennia, one of the leaders of the Shining Blade. At the front of the band of rangers was a young woman clad in a new style of uniform Alexeldin hadn't seen before, dyed a deep pink. But even if the outfit was unfamiliar, the face was one she recognized anywhere. Smiling faintly, her eyes filled with relief behind her spectacles, was her older sister Danielle Roivas.