Hello, everyone! I'm happy to present to you the (hopefully) final version of my long in-the-works fanfiction "Endless Horizons"! This will technically be the third version I have posted, but I simply couldn't love the direction in which the others were going. I have removed the previous two fics to prevent confusion. If you were one of the few that read them, then don't worry! Aside from the prologue, this fanfic is a completely new experience!

In case the summary didn't make it clear, this is an Original Character fanfiction...so don't complain about your favorite characters not being in it! Anyway, without any further banter from myself, here is the prologue!

Washing over a small settlement beneath the darkened sky, the terrible and unending blizzard buried everything with its frigid ice. Once defined and well tread roads were now indistinguishable from their surroundings, the monotonous field of white which covered the town of Coastpond leaving only cottage peaks and great pines as evidence that life still flourishes here. The Kingdom of Veldoria had seen many terrible winters in its long history, but this was undoubtedly one of its worst. Only when the legendary Pirate King Gold Roger was executed eleven years prior did they experience a harsher frost...

With shutters and doors alike barred from opening by the ever increasing snowfall, families huddled about their fireplaces in hopes of staying warm and lasting till morning. No help would be coming, not for such a remote port settlement. Their only hope was that the storm would subside before sunrise, so that they could dig themselves free. Only those who had tired of life would dare to brave this weather, and so Coastpond for all intends and purposes looked to be a ghost town devoured by the harsher elements.

But a small fishing village, their only source of trade had always been with the other coastal settlements that lined the shores of Veldoria. Only on rare occasion would a caravan from inland make the journey to their quiet and remote hamlet. It was for this reason that the harbor, above anything else, had been meticulously maintained in spite of the growing cold. While every other building in Coastpond was buried halfway into the snow, the harbor had still not been completely engulfed by winter.

From the safety of their warm homes, some children peered from their windows in an attempt to see their snow covered village. Hoping to admire its beauty while safe from its harsh realities, they were able to just barely make out the other cottages through the snow filled winds that battered against their shutters. Not all was as it should be however; for many of these children soon found themselves gasping in shock and amazement at the sight before them:

From the harbor had appeared two individuals. Seemingly unbothered by the horrid chill, they forced their way through the snow, a small bundle tucked in one's arms. Though their faces were obscured by both clothing and poor visibility, it was clear that they had only recently arrived, their small boat still tied to its dock a short distance behind them. In every home where they were present, the astonished children called for their parents to come see the "snow people".

It was a ridiculous idea, that two people would brave this blizzard to visit their small and unassuming town. It was rare for them to receive outside visitors even during good climates, never mind in the midst of a terrible snow storm like this. For these rare visitors however, the goal behind their journey had always been the same. There was really only one reason for anyone outside to bother visiting Coastpond...and that was to speak with Professor Montbars...

Through the silent town they marched, clothed in heavy robes that covered them from head to foot and wading through snow which came to their waists, they pressed undaunted towards their distant target: A great stone tower that loomed above the town like a silent specter, its impressive visage still clearly visible in spite of the terrible winds that swept across the village.

Holding its small package tightly to its chest, the shorter of the pair seemed to be especially protective of it, making certain to shield it from sting of the wind that mercilessly battered them. Pushing past every house and cottage in the town without even the smallest of glances, they wordlessly fought their way through wind and snow to reach the base of a great hill upon which the tower sat.

Quickly pressing forward up the great incline, they met with increasing resistance for every step they made. With their unknown package still tucked safely away from the bitter winter chill, they forced their way through increasingly harsh winds to at last reach their goal. Making the two strangers appear as mere specks before its greatness, it stood in defiance against the blizzard; snow which had all but buried the town beneath barely even touching its bottommost rim. With but a set of stone steps standing between them and their destination, they pressed forward to meet their unsuspecting host.

Though slick with ice and sleet, the steps proved an insufficient deterrent to these hooded visitors. Finally standing before the simple wooden door that acted as the towers only known entrance, they announced their presence with a quick rap upon its surface. Against the howl of the wind it was at first unclear if their knocks had been received by the tower's occupants, but their fear was soon dispelled when the door was slowly opened, a stream of warm air flowing from inside and greeting their chapped faces.

Looking upon them with amazement was a young woman, looking to be but in her mid twenties. With waist length blonde hair and crystal blue eyes, it was hard to believe that she could truly be this tower's keeper. "You..." She spoke in apparent disbelief, "But your...you shouldn't be back here for another six months! I cannot be seen speaking to the likes of you so frequently!" She snapped at them in obvious irritation before slowly recoiling in realization, "Wait...if you're here already, then something must have gone wrong with the operation..."

"I'm sorry to involve you in our problems, Sarah..." A deep masculine voice emerged from the taller individual, "But please, will you let us enter?" His voice, though calm and reserved carried a distinct trace of desperation within it.

Seeing their pleading looks and feeling her heart sink slightly, Sarah released a heavy sigh and gestured for them to pass through the door, "Hurry up and come in before someone sees you." Not that anyone else would be mad enough to be out in this freezing cold.

"Thank you, Sarah..again, I apologize for our unexpected visit." Stepping through the doorway with his companion, the taller individual lowered his hood to reveal the weary and tired face of a man that had endured much in the past few days. His hair was a glimmering cherry red and he bore matching stubble upon his chin, with hazel eyes that twinkled against the light of the room.

"Where are the others?" Sarah questioned them, her concern only growing upon seeing his rather haggard appearance.

"Dead..." A third voice interjected itself into the conversation. Lowering her own hood, the second visitor revealed herself to be a woman with shoulder length hair and gentle, pale green eyes. The alabaster complexion of both her and her companion along with the matching color of their hair betrayed them as natives of Veldoria; "We're the only ones from our group that are left now." Though she remained soft spoken, the sadness that poured from her words was evident.

"All of them...?" She could hardly believe it. How could such a disaster have happened? She had seen them all in good health but a few months prior, and now they were all gone...? But then, that had always been a risk in their line of work, hadn't it? It appeared that their constant tempting of fate had finally caught up with them... "But then, why come here? If the World Government finds out where you are, the entire town-"

"We do not intend to stay, don't worry." The man responded, a wry smile sliding across his face. "We know that we're on borrowed time, and we would never try to involve you in our mess any more than we already have."

Sarah knew something was suspicious about their demeanor. Wanted people did not simply drop in for a visit, and if they were not seeking shelter, that meant that they were after something. "If you aren't looking for asylum, then what exactly do you want?" Though they had all known each other for many years, everything seemed to be happening too quickly. She had just been informed that dozens of her very dear friends were now dead, with the last stragglers of this lost cell showing up on her doorstep seeking...something from her. Even if they claimed to not be in need of shelter, Sarah could not fathom any other reason for them to appear on her doorstep.

Without another word being exchanged between them, the woman stretched out her arms to reveal the nature of her bundle. Cooing softly while gently rustling under her blanket, the infant gazed up at Sarah with the same pale green eyes possessed by her bearer. Light patches of red hair covered her head, leaving little doubt to their relationship with the swaddled infant, and one another.

"This is your...daughter?" Sarah stepped back, the nature of their request suddenly dawning on her. "You...no, I can't! If they find out she is here then-"

"They do not know she exists, yet. If they did, we would not have brought her here, you have my word on this." The man reassured the trembling Sarah, her hand now resting against the limestone wall to steady herself. "Please...we are wanted criminals, if she is seen with us...if they find out..." Her mother pleaded, her eyes peering deep into Sarah, asking her to show some semblance of compassion for their child.

Did they not understand the gravity of what they were asking her to do? This was not such a simple matter that she could just readily agree to without a moment's hesitation. But...she also knew that she would not be able to simply turn away from the helpless child that was happily smiling up at her, that would be even more unthinkable. "If I were to take her, then where would you go...?"

Smiling softly at her old friend, the woman gently handed her child over to Sarah. "We have no illusions about our chance for survival...but we do not plan to simply give up. If it is at all possible, we will try to make it back to Barutigo before they can find us." That was a slim hope, but it was their only chance for survival.

Sarah's hands felt as if they weighed a ton when she slowly extended her arms to take the infant from its mother. It offered no protest, gently reaching up to touch Sarah's nose when it drew near. "I...see..." She responded to her friend with a somber smile stretched across her face. She knew in the pit of her stomach that this would likely be the last time she would ever see them alive.

"I know you will take good care of our daughter, Sarah. I know she will grow up to be strong..." Her mother smiled down at the giggling baby before turning towards the door with her husband at her side. "And Sarah..." She paused, glancing over her shoulder at the younger woman, "Do not tell her what her parents were. She must not become caught up in our troubled past..."

"Don't tell her...?" Sarah questioned her in exasperation. It was a rather unreasonable request, the child would eventually have questions about her parents...what was she to say in response to these queries? "And you never told me her name..."

Smiling warmly at this question, the mother returned her eyes to the now resting child, its index finger now tucked securely in its mouth. "Her name is Laura...Laura D. Alden."

And then, with even greater speed than they had arrived, Sarah's last friends departed through her door, vanishing into the night's cold to never be seen again by anyone in their home country of Veldoria...