Another in this series. Enjoy.

Makalov grinned as he stared at the blocks on the table before him.

Today's my lucky day, he thought to himself.

"So what will it be?" his opponent asked.

He had the Dragon, Hawk, and Goddess, in front of him, and had narrowed down the ones on the table until the only ones left were the Constellation, and the Mountain.

"Another hundred on the Constellation," he said, as he lazily tossed a coin sack onto the table. The stars are on my side!

The other gambler matched his bet and looked at him with an even expression. "Make your choice."

Makalov considered the pieces, for a moment before picking up one and flipping it over.

This is the life, Marcia thought to herself, as she soared over the Begnion landscape.

Her unit had been going through maneuvers in Northern Begnion for the past week. These were held every so often to ensure that the Holy Pegasus Knights remained the most effective fighting force on Tellius. Not that there was any real threat to the Begnion Empire, but there were always sources of trouble that cropped up every once in a while that they would need to deal with. And so they practiced.

Included in the program were aerial maneuvers and formations, airborne jousts, dodging arrows, and ground operations for situations in which it was too dangerous to take flight, to name a few. As expected, her unit had done exceptionally well. Commander Sigrun was pleased. Sub-Commander Tanith, though, wore a serious expression. Marcia wasn't sure why she was like that, but figured it had to do with being responsible for the training regiment.

At any rate, the operation was over, and tomorrow they would be home. How she looked forward to seeing her family again, even her lout of a brother. Smiling, she turned her gaze toward Sienne, imagining she could see the Tower of the Goddess from here.

This is the life, she though again.

"Marcia! You're back, and you're safe," Marcia's mother cried happily.

"Aw, Mom! It was just a little training op."

"Well, nonetheless, I worry when you go out there. After all, you were in the mountains. What if something had happened there?"

"Pfff, nothing was going to happen, and even if it did I had my sister knights there."

"I know. But you're still my little girl."


"But I suppose you're right. Besides, I already have enough to worry about with your brother…speaking of which, have you heard from him at all? Your father and I haven't seen him for days."

Marcia rolled her eyes. "He probably got himself into trouble again and is waiting for it to blow over."

"I hope so. I just have this feeling that he's gotten in deeper that usual."

After getting home and the perturbing conversation about Makalov, Marcia decided she needed to get out and wind down from the weeks activities. A round of browsing the markets was a good way to do that. She wasn't much of a compulsive shopper, as a Pegasus Knight she had learned to travel light and do without, but she still enjoyed getting out and looking and besides, on certain rare occasion, one of them had something that she just had to have.

Today wasn't one of those days, however. Many stalls had interesting and unique trinkets but nothing to rivet her attention. So she continued wandering on, seeing everything, but looking at nothing.

"Are you Marcia?"

She turned to find herself facing a dubious looking individual. "Yes?"

"Do you have our gold?"

Oh, great. "I have gold, but I'm not sure why I should give you any."

"You should because it's ours! Your brother owes it to us."

Oh, crackers! I knew it! "Look, I'm sorry about this, but I'm not responsible for my brother's finances. Talk to him."

"We haven't seen him for a month. And we're still unpaid. We have to get our payment somehow."

"Pfff, don't look at me!"

"Oh, I'm looking at you!" In more ways than one, she could tell, mentally cursing her uniforms tight fit.

Fed up, Marcia started to move away, but was not surprised when the man grabbed her. Seizing him arm in turn she pulled it behind him and shoved him into a crouch, while positioning her other hand around his throat.

"Look, buddy, I just came here to relax. Now you've gone and ruined it! I don't have your gold and I don't know where my brother is. If you have issues with him don't bring me into it!"

With that she released him and stalked off.

She heard him yelling but wasn't paying attention; she was too busy fuming. Honestly, she loved her brother, but there were times when she wondered how they could possibly be related. Despite being the younger of them, she had always been more mature, sensible, the responsible one. Makalov, on the other hand, was almost always in trouble of one kind or another. It all stemmed from his gambling habit, she was sure of it. He was always trying to "make the big one," as he put it, but he was not as skilled at these games as he thought he was. Inevitably, he faced a challenge he could not resist that was way over his head and got himself even deeper than he had to begin with. Then, when he had nothing left, he'd come crawling to her looking for relief.

In the past she had done so, out of a feeling of family obligation, but as it had continued on with no sign of abatement, she had regretfully been forced to tell him he was on his own. She simply did not make enough to make up the difference of his debts.

And apparently, he still hadn't learned. And so she found herself at the small flat he lived in.

"Makalov!" she called, pounding on the door.

"Marcia?" Her mother was coming up the street as well.

"What are you doing here?"

"I saw you heading this way. You seemed upset."

Marcia turned back to the flat. "When was the last time you saw Makalov?"

"I think it was around a week ago."

"Do you know if anyone has seen him since then?"

"No one that I would know," her mother sighed. "Why the sudden interest?"

"I just ran into a man in the market who claimed Makalov owed him money."

Her mother's eyes widened. "Oh, my."

"Yeah," Marcia replied. She headed in and went to her brother's room. It was cluttered, as usual, but there seemed to be a few things missing. The wardrobe had been left slightly ajar, and several sets of clothes were missing, along with a number of other things that appeared to have been grabbed in haste.

Her observations supported only one conclusion: I was right, he skipped town! That jerk!

In typical fashion, when faced with a problem he couldn't overcome, he ran, and left others to pick up the pieces. She really did love her brother, but…

Fine, be that way. It's only a matter of time before he comes crawling back here anyway.

Sighing, she turned back to her mother. "Looks like he's gone. Grabbed a bunch of stuff and took off."

Her mother's eyes widened. "Oh, my son. What have you done this time?"

Makalov, was currently hitchhiking his way to the coast. He figured if he could get there, he could get a ride on a ship bound for…somewhere else. Once there, wherever there turned out to be, he wouldn't have to worry about the debtors anymore.

Then he could…do…something. But what?

Aw, it didn't matter. He'd figure it out when he got there.

When he did arrive at the coast a few days later, he was quite depressed. He had been certain that of all the carts and carriages running up and down the road, he'd be able to get a ride on some merchant's cart, a farmer's wagon, or even some noble's carriage, after all, who could resist his charm?

But no, none of them had spared him a second glance, and the only one to even talk to him, let alone let him ride had been the driver of a cart of manure. Great. Now not only was he penniless, he stank.

But at least he was here. Now to find a ship.

This proved to be about as fruitful as the search for a ride had been. What was wrong here? Couldn't they see how handsome he was? How strong he was? What could be wrong with them?

Eventually, someone approached him, a short, grimy-looking, muscle bound man.

"Yar, har, Matey. Ye be lookin' for a ship?"

Finally! "Yes! Do you know where one is?"

"Me capn' Havetti be always lookin' for new meat. Me be thinkin' you'd do fine."

"That sounds perfect! Where is he?"

"Tonight, when the sun sets, come back to this very spot. The ship sails with the tide. If ye be not there, we sails without ye, yar?"

"Yar! I mean yes! I'll be there."

The man gave a smile of broken, green teeth. "Good."

Two months had passed without a sign of Makalov. Marcia was starting to get worried. He had done this before, but usually was back within a few weeks. He didn't even have the guts to escape.

Except this time it appeared he did. At least she hoped so. The other possibility was that one of his creditors got fed up with waiting and…

She sincerely hoped that was not the case. As much as he caused problems she didn't want to lose him. But whatever his fate, his creditors were still not happy, and were getting more persistent in their attempts to get their money.

At first there had been perhaps one or two a week. They would show up at her house, demanding payment. She would shoo them away, only to have them return with the same demand.

Eventually, they began to get pushier, leading to an altercation which resulted in both she and the collectors spending the night in a cell, until her parents, along with Commander Sigrun, arranged her release. After that, she retreated to the confines of the Pegasus Knight's barracks, but even there she could not escape their pursuits.

It had gotten to the point that they were coming every day now, sometimes twice or three times a day. It was not a tolerable situation. Not only was it an embarrassment to her unit and the Pegasus Force as a whole to be hounded by debt collectors, but they collectors themselves began making lewd offers to write off the debts if she or one of her sister knights would spend an evening with them.

That was the last straw. These people had sullied her family's honor, hounded her and her brother constantly, but to insult the greatest warriors in Tellius? It was an outrage! It made her want to march out here and beat every last one of them into the next life. Wishful thinking of course; the Commander would never go along with it, and she couldn't take them all on by herself anyway.

Blast them all! And Makalov too!

Eventually, she figured there was only one thing to do, but it would involve making the most painful choice of her life: she would leave the Holy Pegasus Knights.

Yes, that would be the best choice. With her gone, the collectors would no longer have a reason to stay here and harass everyone.

And so, gathering what things she might need, and writing a letter explaining her resignation, she mounted her Pegasus and took to the skies to search for her brother.

I only hope I'm not ruining both our futures.

Pirates! He had fallen in with pirates!

It seemed like a cruel joke. Like the Goddess was toying with him. He had actually asked Her one night, "Why are You doing this to me?"

For a second, he could have sworn he heard a disapproving sigh.

Whatever the case, he was trapped here, with murderous, pillaging pirates on every side, all of them swinging axes around like toys. He wondered of they slept with those things.

The worst part was that they made him do all the hard work. Scrubbing, lifting heavy crates and other such stuff, pulling barnacles off the hull, it was getting quite tiresome, but there was nothing he could do as long as they kept threatening to chop him into fish bait.

"Yar! That be me wager."

Wager? Now that was a word he could relate to. Looking in the direction of the voice, he found a group of pirates huddled together on the deck, each with a series of cards in his hand. Interest piqued, he stepped up to get a better look.

The pirates appeared to be attempting to arrange the cards into patterns based on the numbers and symbols printed on them.

"Yo, ho, looks like our new mate wants his share. What say ye?"

A variety of glances were turned on him, ranging from curiously amused to barely concealed hostility.

"What'll it be, matey?"

Makalov smiled as he reached for the small bag of coins he kept for just such an emergency.

The search for her brother did not get off to the most spectacular start. Knowing her brother, she had figured the gambling parlors would be the best place to start. Unfortunately, she had never actually been to one of these places, and was unprepared for the experience.

The gamblers were not the most helpful of people. Those that were not outright belligerent were not in the habit of keeping track of the movements of their patrons. Others had said they might know where he went, for the right price, which always seemed to be the one thing she would never give up, which could lead to trouble, as one had tried to take it instead, precipitating a full out brawl when she had tried to get away. It was only through the actions of a couple of the more gentlemanly gamblers that she had managed to escape.

After that she had determined to search elsewhere. It seemed clear that he was nowhere nearby. But where would he go?

Heading for the trading center, she began to ask recently arrived merchants of they had seen a man with pink hair anywhere. The question sounded kind of silly, she supposed but it didn't seem to be that common a color, so she was hoping any such sighting would be of him.

Her persistence finally paid off, as a merchant told her of a silly looking man, with pink hair had seemed to be hitchhiking south, towards the port perhaps. As soon as they said "silly looking" she knew it was him.

With a new lead, she mounted her Pegasus, and flew south, following the main road until she reached the port.

Once she arrived, she found herself in another goose chase. Ships were coming and going on a daily basis, and if he had gotten on one of them there was no telling where he had wound up. But, he didn't have that much money, probably not enough for a sea voyage. Unless he stowed away, she thought.

Falling back on her original search pattern, she began locating the local chance houses to see if anyone matching his description had been there. This proved to be as fruitful as searching the ones back home had been, except these patrons here were even more crude and blatant in their manner. After two nearly disastrous incidents, she decided on another line of inquiry.

The dock masters, she figured were the next most likely people to have seen him, if he had left by ship that was. Unfortunately, none of them had seen him ship out on their docks.

Now she was starting to get frustrated. Didn't anyone know where he went?

"Looking for someone?"

Not again! Turning to the speaker, she found herself faced with a tall man, whose face was obscured by a hooded cloak.

"I might be able to help, for the righ…"

"Twenty five pieces of gold. Take it or leave it!"

The man seemed a little taken aback, but accepted her offer.

"A man matching your description was seen talking to one of Havetti's crew, prior to their sailing. He had been making something of a nuisance of himself since he arrived, but has not been seen since Havetti sailed. Good riddance, too, most think."

"Where were they going?"

The man seemed to think for a moment. "I can't seem to recall, I do hear so many things; it gets hard to keep them all straight."

Marcia clenched her teeth and placed an additional twelve coins into the waiting hand.

"Ah, yes. I believe they were sailing around the continent, eventually to end up in Crimea."


"That is what I heard."

"Ok, thank you!"

"My pleasure, dear lady," the stranger replied as he fingered the handful of coins.

Marcia started off, but stopped as something crossed her mind.

Turning back to the cloaked man, she asked, "By the way, what kind of ship did this Havetti sail?"

"He was a pirate captain."

Marcia suddenly felt a headache coming on.

At first Makalov had been delighted by this new game. He'd seemed to do well with it too, winning almost five times what he started with. But, inevitably his fortunes began to turn. What he never realized was that the more experienced players had deliberately lost the first few games, lulling him into a false sense of security. Now, however, the false pretenses were gone, and the pirates were pulling no punches.

In a flash, his winnings were gone, along with his initial amount. He tried to bluff, and keep calm, but they saw right through him. They knew he had nothing left, but kept inviting him back for more, what he couldn't pay he'd have to work off, and already he was in deep enough to keep him here for a long while.

It wasn't until he saw one of the cards fall to the floor after a game that he got an idea how to get out of this.

The next morning he waited for the pirates to start their game. He had two coins left. Actually, he had picked them up when some careless gambler had dropped them. But this would get him in, at least.

Eventually, the pirates emerged and went to work in their slow, careless manner. Makalov worked as well, close to one of the corners where he could curl up for a well deserved rest.

Later in the afternoon, one of them slammed a deck down and announced his challenge. Quickly others had joined in.

As they threw down money and sorted their hands, Makalov slipped the card he had snuck out up his sleeve.

"Wait, a blasted minute!" bellowed one of the pirates, peering at the hands that had been laid down. He pointed at Makalov's hand. "I had that card in me hand just now."

Instantly there was an uproar as angry pirates turned and glared at him. Makalov tried to quietly back away, but bumped into a solid mass behind him.

"And whar would ye be sneakin' of to, har?" Turning, he found himself face to face with Havetti. "Not up to the discussin'? Or are ye hidin' somethin'?"

Before Makalov could do anything the captain reached into his pocket and found some extra cards.

"Yar, mates! This scallywag was tryin' to pull one over on us!"

Makalov gulped.

"Yar, har! He be tryin' to cheat us. Couldn't pay what he owed, so he took what he wanted, eh?"

They were crowding around him now, wearing ugly sneers, many of them fingering their weapons.

"I says we skewer him and feed him to the sharks!" yelled one.


"Keel-haul 'im, says I"


"Ah, listen to 'im blubber," said Havetti. "Why should we bother with 'im? We're honest pirates here. No need for us to deal with stupid, land-lubbin' oafs. He don't learn the rules, then off the ship he goes!"


"Put 'im over the side!"

"No! Wait!"

Makalov tried to break free as vice like grips seized him and hauled him to the side of the ship. Once there, they unceremoniously dumped him into the waiting sea below.

Struggling to keep his head above water he heard one of the pirates shout back to him, "May the sea gods have mercy on ye, ye mangy, pilfering…mangy…landlubbering…OAF!"

The trip was a nightmare. Following a ship was not something Marcia was proficient at, but she had no other choice. She had considered flying straight overland to Crimea, but decided against it, figuring information on where they had gone was more accurate than where they were going, and she was certain a Pegasus could outrun some oversized crate.

Still, the course she had to follow took her right through the gauntlet, Laguz on every side. Kilvas and Pheonicis to the south, Goldoa to the north, with Gallia further to the west. The bird tribes were the more serious threat as they would attack on sight, the Kilvas ravens to take anything she had on her, and the hawks of Phoenicis out of spite.

Naturally, she tended to fly closer to the coast of Goldoa, even landing when she and her mount needed rest, but still, she was no more anxious to meet one of the mysterious dragons than any other Laguz. As such, she spent no more time on the ground than was necessary.

Aside from Laguz, there were other dangers. The sea could be temperamental in this area, currents flowing between the mainland and the islands whipping up severe weather that could pose a serious threat to a Pegasus in flight, highs winds at the least, storms at worst.

Fortunately, she had only run into one that had actually forced her to ground, the rest had been mainly winds that had made flying difficult, and tiring.

And still there was no sign of the ship. She couldn't be that far behind it.

She continued on, past Goldoa, then Gallia, and finally into Crimea. She stopped at Port Toha, to see if anyone there had seen anything, but no such luck, so she continued on.

Continuing further north, she found the smaller Port Talma. And here she finally hit pay dirt. A ship was tied up at the dock, and not the most respectable of vessels judging by the characters wandering about the deck.

She landed outside the town and made her way in. Heading to a tavern, she began asking around.

"Who's the captain of that ship out there?"

The question drew surprised glances, but most turned away and stared at the floor.

"Please, I need to know."

"You'd do best to just stay in ignorance and leave this town. No good can come from that ship." The speaker turned out to be an old man with a long, white beard. "That is the ship of the Pirate Havetti."

"Perfect, where is he?"

The old man looked shocked. "Why would you want to see him, of all people? He's caused chaos since he arrived here, made off with anything that strikes him fancy…we've sent our daughters to a neighboring town, we've even commissioned some mercenaries to come and deal with them."

"I'm looking for someone, and Havetti might know where he is."

"Well, don't say I didn't warn you. That's him over there," the old man indicated a short, squat, man with a broad face like a toad. Hardly looking like the captain of a bunch of pirates.


She walked briskly to the table where he was sitting. Havetti looked up as she approached, and indicated the other chair at the table, which she sat down in.

"Well, it's always a pleasure when a lady grants me her company. An' what can ol' Havetti do fer ye today?"

"I'm looking for someone. I think they may be aboard your ship. A man with pink, rather curly hair, given to gambling?"

"Ah, yar! I do seem to recall such bloke." He eyed her hair. "Relative of yours?"

"My brother, can you take me to him?"

"Yar, that I can, fair missy. Come to me ship, an' I'll reunite ye with yer dear brother."

"OK, I'll be there."

She got up and left the tavern, but as soon as she was outside, she felt a tap on her shoulder.

Turning, she faced another of the tavern patrons. She scowled at him and asked, "What do you want?"

"Nothing. I overheard you talking to the pirate and…I just thought I'd tell you, I think he's lying."

Marcia felt her heart sink. "Tell me you're kidding."

"I'm sorry. I'm a butcher around here, and Havetti," he spat the word out, "demanded I stock his provisions. I was actually aboard that ship, and I saw no one like you described. I don't think he's there. I'm thinking he wanted to lure you aboard for...well, I'm sure you can guess."

Indeed she could. "Thanks."

"No problem. Hate to see a pretty face wind up with the likes of them."

Marcia smiled appreciatively, before heading back out of town to where her Pegasus was tied up.

Thinking about the situation, she decided to visit the good captain after all, but armed and mounted.

Later that day she saddled up and mounted her Pegasus, took off, and flew around town to the ship's berth. She found Havetti bullying his sailors from the quarter deck.

Hanging just off it, she called to get his attention, "Hey! You! Boat monkey! You tricked me, didn't you?"

Havetti looked at her and grinned. "Tricked ye? What a vile and nasty thing that is to be sayin'." He turned to the first mate." Don't ye agree, matey?"

"Yar, that I do! There be nothing but honest pirates aboard this ship, missy," the mate affirmed.

Yeah, sure. "You said you knew the whereabouts of my older brother. That's why I came all the way to your ship."

"Aye, and we do know! He was on board for a while, and then... Do ye recall where he went, matey?"

The first mate grinned, showing green teeth. "Yar, that I do. He was a penniless oaf, so we tossed his worthless carcass into the rolling waves. Yar har ho!" He seemed quite pleased with himself.

Marcia stood aghast. "My…my brother? That's horrid!"

"Horrid? Did ye say horrid?" the mate bellowed. "Yer scurvy brother was the horrid one! He lost a game o' chance, he did. If ye lose, ye must pay... And the scallywag tried to cheat me! By Shanty Pete he did!"

That was probably true, but…

"Arr…calm yerself, me hearty," the captain said.

"Yar!...Yar?... Yar," came a somewhat befuddled reply.

"After all, his darlin' sister's come to pay us a visit," he continued. Turning back to her, he said, "What say ye work off yer brother's debt?"

Jerky! Here we go again! This guy was dead, no two ways about it. "How about I run you through with my lance and call it a day?" she challenged.

The first mate seemed amused, "Yo ho har! It matters not that ye be a pegasus knight, lassie."

"A wee minnow like yerself is no match for us sea dogs! Prepare yourself, ye flying wench!" Havetti declared.

"Pfff! I'm not afraid of you, clambake! If your axe is as dull as your wit, this will be over in no time!" came her defiant reply as she flew down to the main deck.

The pirates wasted no time in coming after her. The first rushed her from the side and she maneuvered her Pegasus out of the way, and followed up with a knock form the blunt and of her lance that sent him careening over the side rail and into the water below. Another charged her head on, only to meet her lance. She shook her head as the corpse fell to the deck. Another on the rear was kicked in the head by her mount and sent to join his shipmate overboard.

Now they were starting to get serious. A gang of five had clambered onto the deck, looked at their fallen comrade, then looked at her and charged! She was able to kill the first one, and then spun her lance, knocking the weapon away from one, and hitting another in the head. The remaining two tried to flank her, but she urged her Pegasus foreword, until she was near the gangplank.

When she turned around, she saw even more pirates crowding the deck, too many to fight, and without room and time to takeoff properly, she had no way to escape.

"Oh, crackers! There's too many of them. I don't want to die here. Brother…this could be the end!"

A chill suddenly settled over her. "…So cold…" She closed her eyes and waited for death.

"Hey, are you alright?"

"…so…huh?" She looked up to see a young man with blue hair and eyes looking at her.

"Don't give up!" he said, smiling encouragingly.

"Wh-who are you?" She asked.

"I'm a mercenary. The villagers hired us to get rid of these pirates," he replied. Of course! The old man had mentioned something about that.

But still, that didn't mean they were on her side. "Are you... Are you going to help me?"

"Of course. Let me and my companions take it from here. You can escape while the pirates are distracted." At his mention, she noticed three others fighting the pirates with deadly efficiency.

She was a little overcome by their actions. "Oh, hey, that would be fantastic. Thanks so much! I don't know what to say."

He grinned. "You don't have to say anything. It's all in a days work."

"Pshaw! You're helping me out! I should show my gratitude somehow," she insisted.

"That's...nice, but I can't think of anything off the top of my head. Just get yourself somewhere safe, please."

"Well then... I'll come talk to you about repaying my debt later." She smiled at him, and asked, "What's your name, handsome?"

He flushed, clearly not accustomed to female attention. "Um... I'm Ike. I'm with the Greil Mercenaries."

Her smile grew wider. "Ike! Got it! And I am Marcia, a Pegasus knight of Begnion. Don't forget me! All right, I'll be seeing you later." With that she took off.

Later, she landed and thought back on the experiences of the day. Chasing the pirates had been a waste of time. Depending on where they threw Makalov off, he could be anywhere by now. She then thought of her near disastrous confrontation with Havetti's crew. If Ike hadn't shown up when he did…she shuddered.

A thought crossed her mind. Maybe his group would be able to help .It made sense; as mercenaries they probably took commissions from a number of people which meant they had connections around this country. And they could probably use a Pegasus Knight in some cases.

So, it's settled, then, she thought. She'd see if these Greil Mercenaries would help her. Besides, she wouldn't mind seeing Ike again. He sure was cute.

Makalov was not having the best of times. His attempt to escape had come to naught when the pirates had thrown him off their ship. Add to that the fact that he hadn't even made it out of Begnion!

Oh, well. He was sure he was out of reach of those debt collectors now. Or so he had thought. After crawling up the shore, he had trudged inland until he found the main road, picked a direction and started walking.

He had not gone too far when he ran across a caravan of some kind. Thinking he could get a ride somewhere. Waving them down, he asked for whoever was in charge.

When the leader appeared, Makalov nearly ran in the other direction. Why, of all the people traveling the roads of the Empire did he have to run into THESE people? The very ones he was trying to get away from?

"Well, what do we have here?" the leader, Gashilama, asked?

Maybe he forgot? Please, let him forget!

"Looks like a little weasel. A weasel that owes us a good bit of coin."

Thanks a lot!

This particular band was a group of trappers. They would go out into the wilds and return with various exotic creatures for the amusement of the nobility. At least, that was what they claimed.

Gashilama was a man hardened by a life outside civilization. Large, muscled body, sharp, dark eyes, and a low regard for any life other than his own. He had led these ruffians for just shy of twelve years. His usual customers were the rich noble families of Begnion, but recently he had begun dealing with someone else. Little was known of them, other than the fact that they were foreign, and were lining his pockets with enough gold to make the senators envy. Still, he was not above getting a little more through a round of chance, which is how Makalov was unfortunate enough to make his acquaintance.

Gashilama went over to the cowering man, grabbed him by the throat, and lifted him up to look him in the eye. "Well? Where is it?"

Makalov decided to try playing dumb. "Where is what?" Wrong choice.

Gashilama began tightening his grip. "The money you owe us! You disappeared for weeks. You'd better tell us you have it!"

"I…I…" Makalov's mind was racing. "I was trying to get it. I had even managed to get on with a merchant ship. But…I was washed over the side in…a terrible storm and wound up here. And all the money I saved is back on that ship!"

Gashilama burst out laughing. "Well, that's too bad, isn't it? Tell, you what; the lads and I have a large order to fill and we need more men. You join us, and work your debt off that way."

"Join you?" Makalov asked, his eyes darting around frantically. "B-but I'm not a hunter."

"Then you'll be a guard! We'll bring the beasties back from the wilds, and you'll keep them from escaping, and ward off any who get too nosy for their own good, as well as watch my back so I can deal with more important matters." Makalov was suddenly shoved against a tree with an axe held under his chin. "Do you accept?"

Finding the mercenaries had been a challenge in and of itself. None of the people around the area seemed to know where their base of operations was, or at least no one who was willing to tell. It was clear the Greil mercenaries had built a reputation for being at the call of the people of Crimea, as their activities rarely took them further than its borders, so she could understand a little mistrust of a foreigner asking about them.

Eventually, however, she had found the lead she was looking for. It led her to a fort not far from the northern cost of Crimea. Her upbeat attitude took a downturn when she saw a line of soldiers wearing black armor. Knowing those were not Crimea's colors, she landed near a copse of trees, secured her mount, and crept to the edge of the wood to see what was going on.

The soldiers were talking loudly, apparently not concerned about secrecy of sensitive information, and she quickly learned that Crimea had been invaded, and the Royal Family killed.

Heart pounding, she made her way back to where her Pegasus was tied up. Her heart all but stopped when her foot landed on a loose branch that broke with a snap that seemed deafening.

"What was that?"

"What was what?"

"I thought I heard something in those trees."

"Eh, probably just an animal. Go check it out just in case."

Marcia continued backing out as quietly as she could. The footsteps of the soldiers came closer.

"Wait! I see something." Marcia froze.

"Over there! Something moved. See that patch of white?"

She looked down at her white tunic…not exactly concealing in woods like these.

"Yeah! Hand me a bow."

She heard some shuffling sounds and risked a glance around. Seeing nothing in her immediate line of sight, she decided to chance a look around the tree she was leaning against. Still unable to see anything, she tensed as she heard the sound that every Pegasus Knight dreaded: the twang of an arrow being released. She listened as the arrow whistled through the air, landing in the trunk of a tree some distance away.

The sound was enough to draw out their quarry. A large, white-chested stag came bounding out of the woods.

"There he goes!" Marcia allowed herself to breath again.

Waiting until the chase got a fair distance away before moving, she was able to escape while they were distracted. She untied her Pegasus and urged her forward in a light canter, not daring to take to the air until she was a mile away and staying low afterward..

Once airborne again, she proceeded directly to where the mercenary fort was said to be. In addition to her thoughts about joining them and repaying her debt, she now also felt to warn them of the coming danger, provided they didn't already know about it, and she wasn't too late.

Her hopes were dashed when, as she approached her destination, she saw a plume of smoke.

She was too late. Signs of battle were everywhere and a fire in the courtyard seemed to be burning a mound of bodies. She bowed her head sadly; she had failed to warn the mercenaries, and she had probably failed her brother as well. Now she was miles from home, on a wild goose chase in a now hostile land.

Looking back at the fort, she searched her mind for some kind of tribute. She hadn't known them very well, but if Ike had been any indication, they had been decent folk, deserving of a better end than this.

Looking closer, she suddenly realized the bodies in the large smoldering mound were all wearing black armor! Thinking on it, she realized that the invaders would most likely have herded them into the fort and torched them that way.

She continued on, a new picture of recent events forming in her mind. Looking in a storeroom settled the matter. There were rings of dust on the floor where barrels had been, and crates that had been torn open.

The evidence seemed clear: the mercenaries had left. They had driven off the attackers, killing many of them in the process, then packed up and left.

She glanced back at the pile of bodies, her respect for these fighters raised by several points. But where would they go? The only way they could go really was south. Examining the ground seemed to support that conclusion: sets of footprints from both horses and infantry headed off in that direction.

Hoping this really was them, she started following.

Her pursuit took her clear across Crimea, until she lost them in the sea of trees. She knew this was the border from Crimea into Gallia, a Laguz nation. Why they would head in there was beyond her, but she figured it would make tracking them a little easier. After all, there couldn't be too many bands of humans around here.

It took several more days to catch up with them. During that time, she was surprised to see the black clad army, which she had found was from Daein, moving south as well. Another close encounter provided her with the direction she needed.

A passing band of soldiers mentioned how a group of common sell-swords had held off an entire brigade at a nearby castle until a pair of beast warriors had driven them off.

Getting out of earshot of the soldiers, she took to the air, heartened by what she heard.

Can't be much further!

Indeed they were not. The next day she had found them near the coast battling more of the Daein army; a quick look around located Ike with his people on the beach.

Flying over, she called to him, "Ike!"

He looked in her direction. "You!" His surprise was evident. "You're that…"

"That's right!" She was pleased he remembered. "It's me! Marcia! As promised, I'm here to pay my debt…I'm going to join your group!"

Ike's surprise became even greater, "Join us? But I thought you were one of the Holy Pegasus Knights of Begnion…"

"Pfff, I resigned!" she interrupted. "So, what do you say? Are you going to let me in or what? Come on!"

Ike seemed unsure. He really is cute. "Are you sure about this?" he began. "I'll be honest with you. We're a destitute band of mercenaries. Your wages will be pittance compared to what you're used to."

She began to feel disappointed. "So, what? Are you saying no?"

"No, I'm simply pointing out to you that you'll be losing almost all of…"

"Pfff, I won't lose out on anything!" she cut him off. "Plus, I'll work twice as hard as anyone else. C'mon, please let me join! PLEEEASE!"

"Well, if that's what you want, I guess we'll give it a shot. We're shorthanded though, so you're going to be busy," Ike explained.

Marcia cheered, "Huzzah! That's great! Just tell me what needs doing!"

Thus began her travels with the band known as the Greil Mercenaries. Greil, Ike's father, and founder of the band, had apparently been killed a few days before. A shame, as Marcia had wanted to meet him. With recent events, Ike was left to take charge of the company and their current task, which was escorting Crimea's Princess Elincia to Gallia. Actually, she had been at Gallia's castle for some time now, but it was soon determined that she should look elsewhere.

And so, with fresh provisions, funds and two Gallians with them, they made their way back into Crimea to Port Toha, got in a fight when some of the locals found out there was a Laguz in their midst and started beating on him until Ike stepped in the way, escaped on the ship to travel to Begnion, sailed for months around the continent, got trapped by some Kilvas Ravens were bailed out by Goldoan dragons, and assisted in defending the Apostle from having boarders take over her ship. All in all, an eventful trip.

Now they were waiting for Apostle Sanaki, who turned out to be a girl barely out of childhood, though by no means lacking in subtlety or political machinations, to decide what her course of action would be concerning Crimea.

In the meantime, Marcia was going out of her way to avoid her former sisters. She had thought she would be pleased to have the chance to see them, but the circumstances surrounding her departure left a shame that caused her to dread having to explain herself to them. It was made even more difficult by the fact that Sigrun and Tanith frequently came by to discuss matters with Commander Ike. She usually stayed in their quarters until they were gone, as they were the ones she least wanted to face.

Eventually, Sanaki came back with a task for them. They were to seize the cargo of some merchants traveling an old highway. Sounded simple enough, but Marcia wondered if there was a catch somewhere.

Sure enough, when challenged, the caravan had proven itself to be more than it seemed. Armed ruffians appeared from every bush and gulley it seemed. Marcia pulled her lance and readied herself for combat.

Makalov looked up at the sky and frowned at the gathering clouds.

"Ah…what terrible luck. My sixth sense told me the weather would be nice today." His luck had been terrible ever since he had fallen in with this lot. While the work was relatively easy, it was long and dull. Given the wide ranges they worked on, he had been provided with a horse, a second rate, overworked looking horse, but he wasn't complaining…too much. Now however, it looked like there might be real trouble. An armed company had approached and was demanding their surrender. His first instinct was to throw down his sword and gallop off in the other direction, or throw himself after the sword and beg for mercy.

An unpleasant voice broke his train of thoughts. "Hey! Grumbling and whining won't pay off your debt! Come on, beautiful, cough up my gold!"

"I'd dearly love to pay you but unfortunately…I'm broke," Makalov replied. This particular man was another that he had met around the gambling table, and now owed money too.

"Not again! You're employed as a bodyguard! Why don't you have enough gold to pay me back? Grr! When we get back to the base, I'll get what's mine. Try to run and you'll pay in pain!"

"Threaten all you like! I can't give you what I don't have! Ooo, I hope that sounded brave... Oh, dear... What am I going to do? It seems I must go crawling back to my dear sister once again. Oh, she's going to be so mad... But in the end, I'm sure she'll help! After all, it's for the life of her brother! Right! Tonight, I pay a little visit to the barracks of the sacred Pegasus Knights!"

Satisfied with his solution, he turned his attention back to the field. There was a battle going on, and if he was to have a chance to see his sister, he'd do well to survive. With that in mind he began moving further west, away from the attackers, who seemed more intent on getting to the boss.

He was stopped by a sudden call. "B-b-brother?"

He turned to see a pegasus diving toward him, with a very familiar rider…

"Hey, Marcia!" he called. "Heh…Hey, long time, huh? Good timing, though! I was just thinking about paying you a visit, Sis."

"Long time? Long time? You dungheel!" She was clearly in a foul mood. "Where in the name of heaven have you been? You racked up all that debt and then ran away? You're such an irresponsible skunk! Thanks to your worthless hide, I had to leave the sacred Pegasus Knights!"

"Huh? But why?" he asked.

"Because there were a bunch of debt collectors hanging around the barracks! That's why!"

"Oh, that's... That's a shame. Listen, I was trying to increase the money I borrowed and pay off the original, but it, um...vanished." he explained desperately. "And I swear that just kept happening! I'd almost get enough and then...poof! Gone! Ha, ha! Ha? Hmm..."

If anything, his explanation infuriated her even more. "You rat. You cheese-eating rat! You haven't changed at all... Let's go. You're coming with me."

"With you…where are we going? What am I going to do?" he asked, anxiously.

"You're joining my company. I'm going to let Ike beat some sense into you. We'll see how that works," Marcia explained.

"No, wait... I'm working for these guys at the moment, and... Well, if I just up and joined with the other side, it might cause problems—"

He tried to reason with her, but she would not have any of it.

"STUFF IT, SPONGE-BRAIN! NO MORE LAME EXCUSES! FOLLOW ME! NOW!" yelled his now red-faced sister.

Makalov cringed. Between fear of the trappers and fear of his sister, there was only one way to go.

"Sorry, Sis! Sorry! I'm coming…"

Much later, after the trappers had been cleared out, and the company had returned to Sienne, the two of them were able to spend some time together. Makalov spent most of it detailing his failed escape attempt and how all the fates seemed to be against him, and asking why she was so upset.

"Upset?" she replied, "I'm not upset! I'm mad! So mad I can barely even think! First time we've seen each other in months and all I've done is yell and all you've done is make excuses. So we're going to see someone who can clear this up." With that Marcia marched him to their home.

"Mom! Dad! I'm home! And I brought him!" she called.

Her parents rushed out to meet them.

"You're here! Both of you, safe and sound!"

"You had your mother and I worried about you both. Now would you mind explaining what happened that caused you both to disappear for months at a time?"

And so they told their tale, each side, as their parents listened. When they were done they waited for a moment before their father spoke.

"Well, that's quite an adventure you've had. You've both been very lucky…and very foolish. Marcia, in your rush you did not stop to think about the consequences. You may have thrown away your future in the service of the Apostle. Why did it have to be you who went looking for him? There are any number of others who could have done so. Why not the authorities, or even myself? He is my son after all." Marcia simply stared at the floor in shame.

"And you, Makalov, your behavior has caused more problems than anything else I've seen. Marcia is responsible for her own actions, but you were the one that created the situation in the first place. I have warned you time and again that nothing good can come of that. I hope this has taught you a lesson you won't soon forget."

Makalov nodded mutely.

"So, what now?" Marcia asked timidly.

"Well, what you do is your decision. I trust you will make a good one. For Makalov, you say this Ike has agreed to pay your debts for you?"

"Yes, yes he has!" Makalov replied cheerfully.

"And, what else?" their father pressed.

"What, what else?"

"Come now. From what Marcia has said, this Ike is a man of sound character. In fact," he chuckled, "I dare say she sounds a little taken with this intrepid commander." Marcia turned away, blushing. "But I do not think that he is so generous or naïve as to pay off the debts of a compulsive gambler only to turn him loose again. What does he expect in return?"

Makalov stood in silence.

"He has to fight for them until he works it off." Marcia explained.

Their father turned a stern glance back onto his son. "Is this so?"

"Yes," Makalov squeaked.

Their father sighed. "Well, then, you had best continue with them, until you pay back EVERY coin you owe. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," came the quiet reply.

"And you, Marcia? Will you go with them as well?"

"Yes. I still have something I owe them myself. Besides, I need to keep an eye on this one," she said, indicating her brother.

"Very well. Good luck to both of you. Be safe and take care of each other," their father said.

"Remember that we love you both," their mother said. She then stepped forward and gave them each an embrace and kiss. "Take care," she whispered.

"We will," Marcia assured her. Then with a look at Makalov, and a sharp jerk of her head, the two of them stepped outside and walked off.

Their mother watched them go then asked her husband, "Do you think they'll be alright?"

"I think so," he replied. "They sound like they are in good company and engaged in a great cause. I think this experience will be to their benefit."

His wife nodded as she watched her children walk off.

There you go. Happy 2011!