"Tell me exactly what am I supposed to do? Now that I have allowed you to beat me. Do you think that we could play another game, maybe I could win this time. I kinda like the misery you put me through, darling you can trust me completely. If you even try to look the other way... I think that I could kill this time." The Game, Disturbed

Disentangling one's self from an overcoat 3 times one's size is no easy task when one's hands are bound together. Struggling to disengage herself from the warm but stifling coat as well as the last remnants of sleep, Mina looked about for some sign of her tormentor.

He was nowhere to be seen. This was a feat in and of itself since it was somewhat hard to miss a man larger than a horse with bright red hair. Finally kicking herself free of the coat's sooty embrace, Mina rolled onto her side and then struggled painfully to her feet, muttering decidedly unhero-ish sentiments under her breath as she did so. Her arms were sore from being bound all night, and her legs and feet were cramped and sore lumps of flesh below her waist from the brutal pace that the seemingly inexhaustable Bandit King had put her through. She realized dismally that he had more than likely stopped last night for her benefit rather than his own.

"One more thing I owe him for." she sighed to herself, then shook her head suddenly.

What was she SAYING? Red was... well... a bandit rather obviously, and a completely unrepentant and surly one at that. The only reason he was treating her with such courtesy... the only... courtesy? It didn't make sense at all. Red was treating this whole thing not unlike she had been captured in a war, she was not so much his hostage as she was his POW. What did that mean he considered himself? A one man army? Was he insane?

Still no sign of the Bandit King. Where had he gone? What was he doing? Why the hell did he put his coat on her last night? WHEN had he done so? A hundred questions buzzed maddeningly through her skull, and she set about to try and find the irritant who had put her in such a despicable position so that she might throttle an answer, or at least some satisfaction, from him (regardless of the chains that bound her hands--which actually put them in a convenient sort of loop for throttling type action) and maybe get some breakfast.

She was, after all, an Inverse (who are contractually required to have both insatiable appetites for food and homicidal tendencies when angered, or even just slightly annoyed) and damn it, she was hungry.

A bandit with honor made no sense to her at all. The thing that infuriated her the most was that he was... well she wasn't exactly sure she could define him as "evil". Ill-tempered certainly. Arrogant, immoral, and cunning undoubtedly. Oddly enough, these very traits were lauded as virtues in the case of her mother. The only difference between them lay in their motivation. He called himself evil, and was completely content to do so. Worse, he saw being "good" as being weak in some way. It infuriated her. She kicked a stone irritably as she trudged across the dew soaked underbrush, pushing her way through several large bushes toward what sounded like running water.

It should be noted at this time that when the fates have chosen a person for their personal whipping boy, (or girl as the case may be) they have a tendency towards what in boxing is referred to as "hitting below the belt". More accurately, they have a tendency towards distracting their target ("Hey, look over there! What's that?... Is that a steak?") then resoundingly kicking them in the genitals. Twice.


Then tweaking their nose and running away whilst giving them the raspberry.

Which is why, as she crashed through the under brush, she suddenly found herself confronted with a portrait which could have been entitled "Indecent Bandit King's Morning Ablusions in a Forest Lake". She stopped, blinked, then blinked again.

Wow, she thought to herself. He does take that sword with him everywhere he goes.

The large, mostly naked man turned to her and grinned. Water glistened off his huge expanse of a chest ("Which is remarkably hairless considering his eyebrows... and it looks like the morning wood fairy has paid him a visit... Or maybe he's just happy to see me." the decidedly naughty and very subconcious hentai part of Mina remarked) and down onto his forearms, which he had crossed sarcastically as she blinked/froze in shock.

"Good morning. Care to join me?"

A celestial "THHHHHPPPPTTTT!!!!!" noise could not be heard by the profoundly embarrassed girl, but it was undoubtedly there.


"No Red, I'm afraid my mother lives beyond Sentinel City."

"I was afraid you'd say that." Red remarked offhandedly as the two of them surveyed the city in question.

"City" was not a term that best fit Sentinel. "Fortress" came close. "Unassailable Fortress" was probably even closer. The fortress had been built in a natural gap between two mountain ranges that stretched in an unbroken wall along the border that separated the Sailoonian frontier from the heartland. Originally a guard post, it had never really been intended to become anything spectacular. However, being the only natural shortcut into the lands beyond the mountain range it had developed into a major city, for these parts.

Red pointed at Sentinel City with his unsheathed sword as though he might blast a hole in its indestructable bastions by will alone.

"Take a good look at that fortress Miss Hero. That, and that alone, is the only reason I didn't SACK Sailoon City years ago."

Mina frowned in his direction, then returned to observing the obstacle in front of them.

"The mountains stretch for hundreds of miles in either direction. That's a long walk..." She mused quietly, subdued somewhat by the size of the fortress.

He sheathed the sword irritably (she didn't think she'd ever seen him sheath that thing before... in fact, she wasn't entirely sure he'd HAD a sheath for it) and crossed his arms. "Well... we don't have much of an option. Around we go."

"Why don't we go through?" she looked at him sidelong.

"Please. One look at me and there will be more guards then even I care to deal with on my own. Through is not a option Miss Hero."

"Stop calling me that like it's an insult." she snapped irritably.

He grinned. "Why do you take it as an insult, Mina Inverse?"

She kicked him hard in the shin, to which he gave no reaction except for a widening of his grin. She started to kick him again, irritated at the long detour they would have to take, when an idea stopped her in her tracks.

"Red..." she said slowly.

He frowned at her. "What?"

"I have a plan."


"Absolutely not. Who do you take me for, a fool?" he leaned down, staring menacingly.

She upturned her own face and glared at him eye to eye, their noses almost touching. "Its alot better than going around. I don't want you near my mother, but if it's a choice between walking several hundred miles out of my way with YOU for company and eventually leading you to her anyway, or straight through here and leading you, I know which I'd pick."

"No. It's out of the question." he growled menacingly.

"What if I give you my word?!" she thundered back, not backing down an inch.

He let out a startled laugh. "Your WORD?! HA! The word of a HERO to a BANDIT?"

"You keep saying that, Red." the quiet conviction in her voice wiped the smirk off of his face. "Hero is just a word, just like bandit. Are you saying that all bandits are honorable, and all Heroes are despicable? YOU say not to use convenient labels then call all heroes hypocrites. What does that make you, Red?"

He blinked, then leaned back, crossing his arms. After a long moment of silence he finally spoke. "It won't work, Mina. There'll be a lynch mob the minute we set foot in that city. I may have survived that Dragon spell of yours, but I haven't met a man yet who could live without a head, or dancing at the end of a rope."

She continued to glare at him. "I'm an official hero in Sailoon, charged with bringing you to justice. You said so yourself, if they see you, they'll attack in force. They have to, to bring you to justice."

She stopped for a moment to gauge her audience's reaction, and took his silence as a cue to continue.

Justice in Sailoon works a little differently than the justice you see on the frontier. They'd have to at least try to detain you, though admittedly out here "accidents" do happen. If you're already detained, as a prisoner for trial, then you can't be sentenced until you've been tried. You, MISTER Bandit King, are a criminal wanted for the QUEEN'S JUSTICE, which means if you CAN be detained and taken to Sailoon City, you MUST be."

He snorted. "QUEEN'S Justice. Heh. I have no intention of losing my head to that little girl." but he looked thoughtful. "And this would be just until we are past the city?... Trust Mina Inverse. Hero." he mused.

"Is that so hard Red? To trust someone?" she said quietly, continuing to stare at him.

He looked slightly disturbed, as though something she'd said had struck a nerve.

"When that someone is a slave to their conscience... yes. It puts me in the position of having to make a gamble on which is more important to you. Your honor, or the greater good. Make no mistake Mina Inverse... I see no reason to change MY ways..." he looked up at her speculatively. "Why would you change yours?"

She just stared at him, her conviction blindingly obvious. He seemed to be searching for something in her face, some duplicity or weakness. Whatever it was, he didn't seem to find it, and finally, with a completely neutral expression, he loosed the chains from her hands. Then, with solemn deliberation, he wrapped them about his own wrists and fastened them securely (not that he couldn't have broken free in an instant if he wanted to). For a moment Mina was shocked, then elated. While she still wondered over her victory, he suddenly looked up and grinned his arrogant grin of his, nodding his head.

"Very well Mina. We shall see what you are. Hero... or bandit."


Garret leaned heavily on his pike watching the tiny trickle of merchants and the occasional tourist stream through the gate and tried to sort through the reasons why his life was such an inexplicable BLAH. Being on the frontier of Sailoon, one would think being a guard would be an exciting life of challenge and danger. Thus far the most dangerous thing he'd been involved in had been the righting of an overturned orange cart (but it had been a BIG orange cart damn it, and he HAD gotten a nasty splinter...) and policing the occasional surly drunk. He was BORED. Bored to tears watching the same merchants wander through the gates over and over. Bored to tears watching excited tourists (Why couldn't they see that this place was just the same as any other only without even the basic luxuries?) pointing randomly at every available thing as though it was the end all be all of existence. Bored to tears watching the large breasted girl in the outlandish costume leading the most wanted criminal in Sailoon past him in chains. So boring. Nothing ever...

He stopped, blinked, and did the mental equivalent of a rewind. ...Pointing at every available thing.... Large breasted girl... Most Wanted Criminal.. MOST WANTED CRIMINAL?!!!

"H-Hey! Come back here!" he stammered (but in a very officious sort of way), leaving his post to chase them down... the captain would never let him hear the end of this...


Mina was beginning to have doubts about this whole ridiculous venture. The nonchalant, "maybe they won't notice" approach had been blown as soon as they entered the town. A rather large and angry crowd (which was only prevented from being a mob due to the 8 guards provided as an honor guard) had gathered and drifted along with them, full of angry muttering and the occasional jeer or catcall. It was not surprising at all, once one thought about it. For the past 10 years the Bandit King had been reviled as the most dangerous and deadly scourge on the Sailoon frontier, and in such an unrefined and hardy place, full of untamed wilderness and would-be heroes trying to make a name for themselves, that was saying something. The graves that littered the Black Hills (now the Black Lowlands, soon to be the Black Swamp, if nature had anything to say about it, which it did) were full of the bones of said unfortunate would-be heroes, and no small part of them had had relatives in these parts. An angry murmur rose in the air like the first telltale wisps of smoke from a growing fire, and all it would take would be the slightest spark to set it off.

The first stone came from the middle of the crowd, and Mina's eyes widened as she watched it whistle towards Red like a premonition of certain doom. She began to open her mouth to shout the words to a Valis Wall, anything to prevent what she knew was certain to happen....

The rock struck Red in the chest with a painful sounding WUP!

He narrowed his eyes, searching the crowd, his lips thinning...

Mina turned to try and prevent what was about to happen...

He apparently found who he was looking for, and fixed his tormentor with a completely unreadable gaze...

Then he SMILED.

The entire crowd (and a couple of the guards who'd happened to be looking in his direction) took an involuntary step back, momentarily taken aback by the sheer potential for violence in that grin. It was a grin that said, without saying a word, that every person in that square was alive, for now, at his sufferance, and while he could afford to be magnanimous at the moment, it was only at his whim that no retaliation was being taken.

The anger and violence charging the air was suddenly given the equivalent of a sound bitchslap when the Captain of Sentinel arrived with 30 armed guards.

"Alright, that's quite enough of this happy horseshit for one day." the voice would have been pleasant if it didn't give one the impression that the only reason it was as such was due to the owner's extreme love of bouncing other people's skulls off of the pavement.

Mina's spell died on her lips and all of the crowd suddenly stopped whatever they were about to be doing and turned to the source of this rude announcement. Even Red stopped grinning and raised a wary eyebrow in it's direction.

The source of said edict was a lean, wolfish woman in her mid-to-late 20's with short, wavy red hair that barely touched the nape of her neck. She was dressed in a standard issue guard uniform and armor, the captain's bars looking very appropriate on her well polished person. Her lips were drawn in an expression of extreme disdain, and one could tell from her stance and the way her palm lingered lightly on the pommel of her bastard sword that she knew what she was about. Of course, in order to get that impression, all one had to do was look into her lazily half-slitted grey eyes. They missed nothing, and gave nothing away.

It was extremely obvious at that point exactly who ran THIS city.

Her gaze passed over Mina almost dismissively, lingered on Red for a moment, then snapped back to the crowd.

"What was I not clear? SCRAM! This is official business."

The crowd edged back, bleeding a few individuals (who probably had very good reasons NOT to get the captain's attention considering the ingredients required to make your average mob) into the shadows, but grudgingly. A few individuals muttered bitterly, and the captain frowned.

"Are you suggesting that the Queen is incapable of handling justice in this situation?" she phrased it in a quiet, dangerous sort of voice that still somehow managed to be conversational. The guards around her showed the crowd exactly what they thought of anyone who might be suggesting this, swords rattling suggestively in sheathes, and a vast majority of the crowd decided it had pressing matters elsewhere.

Red let out a rumbling chuckle and seated himself crosslegged on the ground, much to Mina's amazement. The captain gave him a look that bespoke painful death, which he ignored, save to snort irritably.

"Let me know when you people decide who to be more afraid of. Me... or HER."

That rather amused statement effectively broke the back of the angry crowd. (really more of a crowdlet by now) The last few stragglers cleared the street, leaving Mina and Red alone with just under 40 guards in the center of the most well defended city in all of Southern Sailoon.

The Captain stood there for a few moments, then finally appeared to notice Mina for the first time.

"So. You're the Hero that bagged this pain in the ass, hmm?" she looked Mina over critically, and Mina straighted up unconciously. She had, after all, been trained alongside several guards. Her father had ground the routine into her rather well.

"That's right. My name is Mina Inverse." she allowed guardedly.

"Hmm, Inverse huh? Pardon me for saying so..." she said, obviously not giving a damn about Mina's pardon in the slightest, "but weren't you Inverses more of a shoot first, sort through the ashes later sort of bunch?"

Mina shrugged. "My mother was. I'm a bit more mercenary (the irony of this statement knows NO bounds) in my outlook. I figure the Queen will pay pretty good money to get her hands on this "pain in the ass" as you call him." She couldn't resist the temptation not to kick him sharply in the side to accentuate how much of a pain in the ass she thought he was. He gave her an unimpressed sort of glower.

The Captain didn't look particularly impressed with her display either. "Right. I suppose you were just going to waltz him right through my city, leaving a wake of disgruntled citizens in your wake... is that about the score?"

Mina shrugged, playing the part. "Not my problem. I've got my hands full with HIM." she jerked a finger at Red, who for his part was starting to look rather bored.

The captain leaned forward, her voice getting even more pleasant. "Well... that's where you're wrong, sister. See, I'm charged with maintaining the peace in the realm of Sailoon. Now, I might be a little old fashioned, but I gave my oath that I would do what I'm charged to do... and I take my oath very seriously." she raised her voice, slightly, stifling Mina's protests. "It just so happens that right now what you are is a hell of a big disturbance to the peace. Until I figure out exactly what the hell Sailoon wants to do with Chuckles the Clown over there..."

She grinned, and it was every bit as nasty as Red's had been. "Well... lets just say I've got a nice room and a bed with 3 square meals a day and plenty of iron just for you, big guy." She gestured to the guards and started to walk away as they took up positions around Red, who gave Mina an "I told you this was a stupid idea and now I'm going to have to hurt many people" sort of look.

"Out of the question!" Mina snapped, starting to feel trapped. "If you think I'm letting this bounty slip out of my hands you-"

The captain stopped and turned around slowly, giving Mina a pleasant smile that did not reach her eyes. "Oh I'm sorry.. did that sound like a request? You know, if there's one thing I hate more than pushy heroes, its pushy mercenary heroes. Relax, sister. I promise you'll be properly compensated for this. In the meantime... enjoy the city. Take in the sights, have a beer. I don't really care what you do, as long as it's without him. This is out of your hands."

"BUT-" Mina found herself at a loss for words, this whole conversation giving her a terrible sense of deja vu.

The captain barked an order and the guards began leading the chained giant away, who miraculously went without any resistance. As he was being led away, he caught her gaze momentarily before they passed into the garrison.

His eyes were mocking her... as though they had judged her... and found her wanting.

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