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: Nothing much except that two new characters are introduced; kind of long chapter. Have fun reading, and please review if you would be so kind to! :)

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
by Nickety

Chapter Two: The Offer and the Hunted
One was a short, stout man named Xaon Nashes. He was drinking heavily from a flagon of the pub's best togac, his bulk of a stomach jiggling merrily as the strong liquor burned his throat. Belching loudly, he dropped the flagon with a loud clonk! and winked at the stranger across from him. The other figure was thin, cloaked in black, and a lot less impressive than the boulder of a man it faced. The features of this one were securely hidden in shadow by its large hood, and the flagon of togac set aside for him lay untouched.

But was it a 'him'? Xaon had long assumed that the infamous mercenary Echo of the Kalius realm was a man, but truthfully, he had never really known. At the moment, however, Xaon was more eager to ask for his services than to confirm his gender.

"Should come here more often for a drink or two," Xaon gurgled happily, his Kaliun dialect hinting a North Groman accent. He took another swig from his flagon. "Finest togac in all of West Kingdom, yes?"

Echo said nothing for a moment, still ignoring the liquor by his hand. When he did speak, his quiet, low voice sounded irritated from beneath the hood. "My patience is waning. I waited ten minutes for you to arrive, and you are using another five and counting to get settled. I have no time for this, Nashes. You wanted to meet, so here I am. Stop stalling and get on with your business, or I will take my services elsewhere."

Acting as though he hadn't heard, Xaon bent his head back and drank the last few drops of his togac. He sighed. "Ah, good stuff, that is. Oh, yes, business!" Looking around to make sure no one could overhear, Xaon leaned in close and lowered his voice. "So you're wondering why I came all the way down from upper Grome to find you, yes? I called you here because I need a big favor, and I hear from many that you're the man I want, the best thief and scoundrel in all of Kalius – "

"Your offer, Nashes," Echo cut in edgily. "I don't need the introductions or the flattery."

Xaon turned red, sensing the danger in the situation, and immediately launched into his request. "Right, yes. My offer." He looked around again, and then lowered his voice even further. "There is something I want, ah, very badly. And I need you to get it for me. There is another pub like this called the Flying Frager; quite far, lies right on the border between Kalius and Grome. The owner lets a homeless man named Emroy Eyson sleep in a room in the back of the pub; very strange man, they say he's the son of a lemaiso. Lemaiso, ha! No such thing as lemaiso in the West Kingdom, you only find those kinds in the East, yes?"

"Are you saying that he knows of Old Magic?"

"He doesn't just know of Old Magic, he knows Old Magic! Very dangerous fellow, he is, yes? Now, that man has a staff in his possession. I don't have a very accurate description, but it's about your height and it has Etka je kavot carved around the bottom, and I think it's wood. I don't know where he keeps it, but I know that he has it. You go and get it for me, and then kill him with no evidence left to trace, yes?"

Echo was silent again beneath his hood. Then, he said in the same soft and low voice, "Why do you want this staff?"

Xaon snorted. "Because it's mine! He stole it from me, you see? Emroy is a nasty man, even more greedy than he is bitter. I had it imported from the North Kingdom and I was going to sell it; worth a fortune, it is! I want him dead and the staff in my hand." He paused, as if to give Echo thinking time, and then said, "So, will you do it?"

"Depends. What's your part of the bargain?"

Xaon reached into the inner folds of his cloak and then threw a sack about the size of an apple onto the scrubbed table. It sounded heavy. "You see this? One-hundred adair inside. I pay you this now, and if you give me the box, I give you nine more sacks also with one-hundred adair each. By the time you are finished, you will be a rich man. A deal, yes?"

The mercenary shook his head, laughing coolly. "The trouble of murdering a lemaiso will cost you much more than that, my friend! Nineteen sacks plus prepayment, no less. If you can't pay the price, then I can't help you."

Xaon gaped, momentarily dumbstruck. Then, with a look of outrage, Xaon began to object to the outrageous sum, ways of bargaining the price back to his terms flying about his mind as Echo watched silently - and after a few quick breaths, Xaon restrained himself. After all, he could afford it, and from what he'd heard, Echo the mercenary always got the job done quick and clean. He didn't want to risk anything. This time, he was going to get that staff, and no one would do it for him better than this man. He swallowed, and then nodded.

In a quick movement, Echo's hand had closed over the sack. "It's a deal. Consider the job done."

Far away from Echo and Xaon, Emroy Eyson was dreaming. He was running through a maze, the walls of which were solid rusting iron. The only light was the sphere-shaped phial of white fire that hung around his neck. He didn't know how long he'd been stuck in there, but he knew he was doing two things at once; running away from a horrible danger, and chasing after something he had to get back. Breaths coming in short and fast, he turned a corner, and found himself at a dead end. He turned to retrace his steps.

But the path he'd just been on had vanished. He was facing an iron wall. Trapped and panicking, he spun around again - and ran smack into a rusting iron gate that appeared out of nowhere.

Even in the dream it hurt. He backed off, rubbing his nose, and looked up at what he had run into. It was different from the walls of the maze ... older, and consisting only of thick bars placed at five-inch intervals. He pushed against it. It was locked. No matter, he thought to himself in the dream. He raised his hand, closing his eyes -


Something struck him from behind and he slammed once again into the gate, hard, but this time, a sharp, piercing pain erupted from his chest. Something was spilling all over the floor of the maze - was it his blood? He kneeled slowly to the ground and put his hand to his stomach, feeling something wet - the silver string holding the light around his neck broke and the phial fell, shattering into a thousand pieces, the flame that was life vanishing instantly, his eyes rolling upward -

He woke.

His heart beat hard against his chest as he lay there on his thatch spread, gasping for breath. It was pitch black in his room, as always since there were no windows. He panicked. No light! But that just mean ... His hand went to his euphorin, the white phial that hung around his neck. It was intact. He took it out from under his shirt, and immediately the room was illuminated by its glow.

It was a very small room with stone walls and a dirt floor. The rotting door was wooden with cheap metal hinges and an equally cheap lock (a slab of wood), and the only real furniture was the thatch blanket he slept on. Emroy had lived there for the past two years, ever since he was fourteen. There was no place else to go; the owner of the Flying Frager, Barboly, was the only one kind enough to care for him. So, seeing as he didn't really have a choice, he'd learned to cope with the bad smell, his constant hunger, and how cold it always was.

At the moment, however, it didn't feel cold at all. Again, he thought, droplets of sweat dotting his forehead. The same dream. The same ending.

Closing his eyes, he wiped his face with his hand, trying to convince himself it was just another nightmare. But lemaisos, even ones not fully trained, never had normal dreams, and he kept having that same dream over and over again. What is this saying? That I'm going to die young? He curled up, suddenly feeling cold, and then turned to face the wall.

An hour ... two hours maybe, passed. Finally, he started hearing muffled voices, and knew that the pub was open and customers were coming in. Barboly should be knocking on the door anytime now, he thought. Knocking on the door to tell me that it's morning.

But no one came.

Emroy lay on his blanket, confused by this change of Barboly's daily routine. Now that he thought about it, those voices didn't sound like the usual, "Morning, Barb" banter. These voices were different. Secretive. Searching.

Suddenly, there was a loud SMASH! Emroy jumped. Someone clumsy had broken a glass; definitely not Barboly, who took much care in his bartending. What sounded like three voices started hissing angrily at the culprit. He tensed up, listening hard.


"Argh, you stupid fool! The owner of the pub sleeps upstairs, you want him to wake up and find us lot in here?"

"Sorry, Noavan, issall black, degoblet popped out of nowhere and meh elbow juss - "

"Be quiet, Mren, it's not like I can understand a word you're saying," the second voice snapped in a hushed voice. "I will deal with you later. Breive, you're tall enough. Take one of the candles off the chandelier on the ceiling and light it, quick. How are we supposed to find a boy in the dark?"

He froze. It wasn't morning after all, it was still nighttime. A whole band of intruders, and they were looking for him! He leapt off his mat. I've got to get out of here! Rolling up his thatch mat quickly, he thought of how he could escape. But there was only one way out of his room; through the door. But the door merely lead to a hall, and there were only two places to go from there: straight into the pub where the intruders were, or upstairs, a dead end.

The only way is becoming invisible.

Even thinking of it made him feel queasy. His father had died before teaching him all there was to know about being a lemaiso, and becoming invisible was something he'd never tried before. He had also heard that being invisible for a long period of time could completely drain a lemaiso's euphorin . Did he dare to risk it?

The sounds of the intruders grew louder.

He took the candle off the table, and tucked it inside his rolled up mat. Placing those two by the door, he quickly went over to the far right corner of the room, and put his hand on one of the stones. He closed his eyes, and concentrated.

The enormous stone began to glow brilliantly, shimmering with a white light, exactly like the one in his phial. Clenching his fists, he imagined the stone turning into nothing but air, picturing it happening with all his might, hoping that he could undo the Magic he had already done. And slowly, the stone began to fade away, first becoming a little transparent, and then disappearing entirely.

He tore his hand away, gasping; his euphorin had lost a lot of its glow. Feeling very drained, he reached his arm into the space where the stone had once been, and took out a tall, wooden staff hidden behind it.

"Breive, did you check upstairs for the runt?"

"Yes. Didn't find anyone who could be the kid lest he's got a big belly and a beard."

Teeth chattering in fear, Emroy stuffed the staff into the mat with the candle and heaved the whole lot into his arms. He had no choice. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself and his mat vanishing into thin air. Immediately, he started feeling weak. The white-flame of his phial flickered dangerously.

Clonk. Clonk. Clonk. Clonk.

The heavy foot steps grew louder, and then stopped. The rusting hinges of the door made a slight wailing noise as someone leaned against it; the horizontal slab of wood acting as a lock was just enough to stop the door from collapsing. Emroy gritted his teeth, ignoring the voices were now right outside his room, concentrating -

"It's locked," the man named Noavan whispered. After a few seconds, time for Noavan to examine the mechanics of the door lock, Emroy heard the soft unsheathing of a sword. Noavan stuck the blade of his sword through the gap between the door and frame, and brought it upward.

The 'lock' lifted easily, and the door swung open.

Nickety: Who is this mysterious Echo? Does Emroy escape? Find out in chapter three! :) Couldn't resist a cliffhanger. Did you like it? I hope so! I'd be very grateful if you commentated. Just press the buttoon down on the left and leave a note.