Summary: Aphaya is Echo, an infamous and cold-hearted mercenary. Kaze is Emroy Eyson, her next target; a sixteen-year old like herself with a gift. What will she do? Kill Emroy and claim her gold, or help him on his own journey?
Note from the author: Revised! This is the new chapter one. I was starting on chappie two, but I had to stuff about a zillion packs of info into it and it was rather unappealing. So, here's the new chapter one! Reviews are appreciated, of course.
Disclaimer: All the ideas, characters, plot, etc., in this story belong to me unless otherwise noted. Infringement of anyone's copyright is unintentional.
Aphaya and Kaze
Chapter One: The Best-Laid Plans
Scilly the handmaiden had dutifully taken care for Princess Aphaya ever since she was a child, but even after those long fifteen years, she didn't really understand anything about her mistress.
Night had fallen over the grand castle of King Eotcha, high ruler of the Four Kingdoms. In the small bedchamber at the top of West Tower, Princess Aphaya was sitting on her canopy bed in her nightgown as Scilly the handmaiden combed her mistress's long, black hair.
"You haven't said anything in a week, missus," Scilly chided kindly. "You'd better loosen that tongue. Tomorrow you will be married to Prince Damnien, and then you will rule the Four Kingdoms with him, just like your father. Imagine that!"
Aphaya said nothing.
She'd never cried in her life; she was mourning for Jerico instead with her gift of silence. Jerico had been from a village in the South Kingdom. He had been handsome, caring, and witty. As well as a mere fruit vender's son.
So, every other night, she snuck out of the castle and met him in private.
But disease had swept across the South, and even though the King had promised his people that it would do them no harm, at least a fourth of the South's population had been wiped out.
Aphaya tugged her hair out of Scilly's hold and said the first word she'd uttered in a week. "Thank you, Scilly. You may retire now."
"Missus?" Scilly said uncertainly at the sound of the princess's voice. She stood and folded her hands politely in front of her, as expected from a lowly handmaiden like herself. "Are you sure you do not need my assistance any longer?"
"Yes," Aphaya said curtly.
Scilly took hold of the candle on the bedside table and walked hesitantly to the door.
Scilly, her face illuminated strangely by the candlelight, exited, closing the door behind her.
Immediately, Aphaya leapt out of bed and locked the door. She took off her nightgown and put on her village clothes, the ones she wore whenever she snuck out to meet Jerico. Then, once she'd finished changing, she moved her chair to the far right side of the room, stood on it, and felt about the ceiling. Sure enough, her finger caught onto a circular latch, like a door knocker, and she pulled. A hidden rectangular trapdoor opened downward at her.
She heaved herself up, through the trapdoor and onto her feet.
The top of the tower was lined with a short stone wall, and a sword, a weapon her father would not permit the use of, was leaning against it in its scabbard. Aphaya had dedicated many nights in the same place practicing her swordplay with that stolen sword.
Making a quick decision, she unsheathed the sword and took hold of her hair.
A thick black ribbon fell like a snake to the floor, leaving her with short, crudely cut hair that rested at her shoulders. She sheathed the sword and buckled it to the belt around her waist. Then she leaned over the wall, looking down. It was quite a height; a hundred feet at least.
She stepped up onto the wall, feeling the breeze of the night sweep her face. The West Kingdom smiled invitingly at her, willing her to come down to it. She raised her arms to her side, like wings.
She fell forward off the tower, for she was not afraid of pain, or Death.
Aphaya expected to experience the impact of her body against the hard, solid ground before everything was wiped blank.
It never came.
Instead, she opened her eyes to find herself floundering in the Ocean of the Dead and Living. The water, which for some reason felt more soft and silky than wet, was clear as glass, the sky above a sparkling white. There were many in that ocean, people, animals, plants, even. They floated above the surface, asleep, while others failed in Life, woke up, and sank. Some parts of the ocean were calm and peaceful, while others were full of waves and whirlpools.
Aphaya was caught in one of the whirlpools. A fight she couldn't win, a fight she didn't want to win. She relaxed, and fell deeper, deeper, and deeper into the depths of the ocean, the water filling her lungs.
But Life kept tugging her upward.
[This one doesn't belong here,] it said. Its words came from the sky and through the water to Aphaya, floating like wind, effortless but commanding. [Its task is yet to come. I will take it and bring it back to the surface.]
[No!] shrieked a second voice from the depths of the ocean, right at the bottom. [This one chose her path, she is rightfully mine!]
The whirlpool of crystal water swirled faster and faster as Aphaya was flung down and down. The Sky Voice replied, angrily, [Stop this nonsense! You have known the path of this one for a long time. You know that this is not the way its end will come!]
[Well, be that as it may,] the Ocean Voice crooned happily. [It's too late! It is in far too deep for you to come and save it, for you would not dare dive into the Ocean of the Dead and Living.]
[Do you taunt me?]
Aphaya looked upward. She was at least a hundred, two hundred feet below surface, and how wonderful it felt ... then she noticed that the Two Voices had stopped arguing. All for the better, thought Aphaya. My head aches.
But then, something grabbed hold of her wrist.
A human-like figure was floating there, garbed in flowing robes. It wasn't a women, or a man. Its face seemed to not be of both ... but of neither. A white glow radiated from every inch of its body, illuminating the water and causing a terrible outcry from the Ocean Voice.
[You cheated!] the Ocean Voice screamed. [That is not how it's supposed to be done! You CHEATED!]
[Yes, I cheated. If that's what it takes ...]
The figure of Life suddenly changed into the shape of a long, slender fish, and, tugging Aphaya up with her, swam to the surface while Death cursed them. Once the two broke surface, the fish disappeared into the sky and Aphaya gasped back into life.
"No!" she yelled, getting no answers from the sleeping figures around her. "I'm supposed to be die! Bring me back to Death!"
Life, however, had other plans.