I lead the two men, Ryder and his brother to my current residence. It changed every week, just to be sure. I have a hell of a lot of enemies, considering. Then there's the city guard; they're not fun. I pegged Ryder to be about 22 or 23, two or three years older than my brother. He was pretty good looking too, for a mercenary. Plain yellow blonde hair with startlingly blue eyes. His brother had the same blue eyes, though his hair was more bronze than blonde. They both had the same look in their blue eyes, the look of a practiced killer. They were running from something; something they couldn't go to the guard for. Not that anyone from this area would ever turn to the guard for help.

Once at the small three room residence I currently called home at the edge of the marketplace; I disabled my welcoming attack and led the three men inside.

Draven instantly made himself comfortable in his armchair and the brothers stood cautiously near the door. They didn't trust us; which was good, I knew they weren't stupid. I never bothered saving the life of someone stupid.

"Who's chasing you?" I asked calmly, dropping into my chair.

I noted how the two of them made sure my brother was out of striking range, they seemed more cautious of him. I always found that amusing and I knew Draven did too. We had a running bet on how long it took the clients to realize who was more likely to punch them if they made a wrong move. Sure, I wasn't stupid, but when they got that look a guy got when they thought them could have a girl, I wasn't happy. At least they weren't acting like I was a weak

defenseless damsel, I was getting a few wary looks too; which just made me like them more.

"A division of the thieves network," Ryder told me. To his credit, he didn't ask how I knew he was being chased. I grinned, I really like him.

"What's so funny?" his brother asked. They looked a little defensive, like I was going to tell them I worked for their enemies.

"I think I'll help you," I laughed. "What can I do for you?"

"I-" Ryder seemed taken back for a minute. "We need you to take ourselves and our two brothers across the sea and across the Black boarder to the forest nations."

My insides froze. I took a deep breath and refused to show any emotion on my face or in my voice. I liked Ryder, I could do this without falling apart. Just because I had sworn to never cross the sea again didn't mean I wouldn't if I liked the client and the pay was right.

"Where in the forest nations?" I sounded perfectly calm.

"No." Draven's voice cut across Ryder's answer. I looked at him. "No Es. No."

"Where in the forest nations?" I repeated.

"Syra," Ryder was looking at my brother cautiously.

"Esmeralda." Draven's tone could have cut through diamonds.

"This is not your decision Draven." I snapped.

"The hell it isn't," he snapped back. "You are not going back to that place."

"Draven," I said sharply. We were not going to discuss this in front of the clients. "How old are your brothers?" I turned back to them.

"18 and 15." The brother answered me. Ryder was still watching Draven warily.

So one was my age and the other was just a boy. Not too bad, at least none of them were below 14, that would be tricky.

"How much are you willing to pay to get to the forest nations?" this was always an interesting part. There was usually a load of haggling and arguments between the clients.

"180,000 lars." Ryder laid it down straight. "Not including travel expense."

My jaw nearly dropped. He was very sure of what he was doing. Then again if he was the unsure annoying sort I wouldn't even be considering crossing the sea.

"Deal." I ignored Draven's pointed look. "How soon can you leave?"


"Then be back here tomorrow an hour before sunset; I'll have us a ship and papers."

"Thank you," Ryder nodded gratefully. Both brothers looked slightly surprised that it was so easy; but Ryder still appeared a little cautious. Good for him; since his brother really hadn't said much I couldn't tell if he was like Ryder, but if the other brothers were anything like the eldest, this was going to be an interesting trip.

I watched them leave, still slightly tensed for attack until they were well out my door and prepared for my brother to start yelling. When he didn't I gave up and looked at him. His glare definitely could have sliced up diamonds. He was not a happy man.

"No Esmeralda."

"I've already accepted their request," I shrugged. "Too late to bow out now."

"No it isn't!" he snarled. "God Dammit Esmeralda! What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

"Invoking God and hell in one sentence," I commented dryly. "Are you trying to curse this voyage?"

"At least if the ship sinks in the sea we can swim back!" he hissed. I don't think I've ever seen him this angry before. "How can you even consider going back there?! You know he will be looking for you. You know the extent of the power he has in that place."

"Don't." I didn't want to think about that; I couldn't deal with it again. "I like Ryder, which is why I want to help him save his family's lives. Is that really any different that what you did for me?"

"That was different."

"Is it?" I asked, fighting to remain perfectly calm.

"You can't go back," he sighed, sounding almost like he was giving up. "Just think about what you're doing. You know he will find us there."

"No he won't." I tried to sound confident. "He has all his minions looking for a black haired noble. I hardly look like a princess now do I? I'm scrawny, bruised and blonde."

"Your face is still the same sister," he stood up. "Thinner and tougher, but the same."

"I'm not the same person I was then." I snapped. I was shinning and beautiful then... had everything I wanted. That was two years ago, though it felt like 200.

So much had changed. After all that happened, after so much of it was my fault, I couldn't be shinning and beautiful anymore. I felt hideous.

"You're still my beautiful fragile littler sister," he said gently.

"Fragile?" I snorted. "In two years I've managed to create a reputation that puts the guard off bothering us."

"I know," he sighed.

"And I'm not beautiful," I said quietly, to myself. To my brother, I said "I'm going to go pack, then I have a lot of work to do. Do you mind contacting Hale about the papers?"

"I'm on it," he said in a low, pissed off voice. "There's just no talking you out of this is there?"

"No," I said gently. "And I'll pick up dinner on my way back home."

"We have food here," he said.

"I'll pick up dinner." I repeated. There was no way I was taking the risk of letting him drug my food and lock me up so I can't get on the ship. By the look on his face, I'd guessed right. I rolled my eyes and went into the bedroom.

My half of the room was a hell of a lot cleaner than his, but that didn't mean it was clean by any standard. It would take longer than I wanted to find the clothes I wanted to take. I got started.

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