Chapter 1

The world had ended. Without Xirena and Xenos there was no world to return to.

Anka stared intently at her target. Willing her breathing to stay at a normal pace, she narrowed her eyes and tried a to get a better grip on her weapon. Soon, now, very soon, she promised the mark, a smile creeping onto her face. There was an annoyed grunt behind her and she glared, but did not turn around. Let Kel do all the damn grunting he wanted she was going to make this kill.

Ready now.

No more hesitation.

Last breath.

Stare. Grip. Throw.



The howl of laughter from behind her reached her ears before she even realized what the odd sensation surrounding her was.

"Can't believe you fell for that, little Ka!" Kel exclaimed as he strode over, a huge smile on his face. He patted her soggy hair. "Guess that's one way to get you to bathe, eh?"

Vlanka felt her right eye twitch. "Kel! What the hell?"

"Stop! Just stop! You're even rhyming! Pray don't break into song and dance at this moment! Soon you'll be putting on a pretty dress and going to Xafina's court as the right beautiful princess she wants to present you as." He walked over and picked up the water bucket Anka had dropped from high up by sending a knife to slice the rope that held it up. He lifted an eyebrow; she was getting better than him. It had taken him three time to do the feat.

Anka looked down at herself and began to furiously wave her arms about (making sure to do so more in the direction of Kel than anywhere else) trying to shake the water off her. "I am more likely to break your neck! I'm afraid your time to die has come. You served me well, but I'll not have a traitor (at least not another one) in this castle." She began to wring water out of her hair. "And do not call that gaggle of people who follow her around her court; you shall make me sick."

"Fair well, fair well, my lovely princess," Kel said dramatically, dropping to one knee and bowing he's head. "I'm your humble servant." He sneaked a look at his young companion. She was supposed to be a beauty. Well, she is a beauty, Kel thought, if only she would bath a bit more often.

Bathe, groom, and take care of her clothes, if only that. But as it was... Her hair was a mess, a tangle that bespoke nothing of the fact that her hair was actually straight, not a horrible knot of bad curls. Her gown—to use the term loosely, heap of rags stitched together for some perverse reason, was closer to the truth—made Kel cringe. Gods, when was the last time that thing had been washed? The answer was likely 'never.' There was far too much dirt on her face to believe it had all gotten there by itself; likely she kept a bucket full of mud on her bedside table to dab on her face first thing in the morning. He'd have to ask Koda about that.

Because it made him suspicious, the fact that she didn't smell are horrid as she should, given how she looked. By all accounts she should reek something foul, but she didn't.

It was all for show, of course. It was only Anka trying to spite Xafina. It worked, too. But then again Kel wasn't so sure Xafina didn't already hate Anka before her little rebellion began. If anything, the fact that Anka made sure to look like the devil was the only defense she had against any attempts Xafina made to marry her off. She was fifteen now, after all. Marriageable age, beautiful, and princess to boot. It was a wonder Xafina hadn't found someone to hoist her off on.

But she will, Kel thought, looking up at Anka as she turned to glare at him. Sooner rather than later, she will send little Anka away. He just hoped it was somewhere where she could be happy.

Anka looked at Kel, annoyance clear on her face. "Do get up, Kel. I am no princess, do not insult me so. I do my fair share of work around this place, despite her protests. And you'll not bow to me. My mother and father never let you bow before them and I am not about to let you either."

"If you wish so," Kel sighed. He got to his feet.

Anka rounded on him, hands on her hips and a frown on her brow. "Don't do it because I wish it! Do it because—well, because you don't have to! You never have to bow, not to me or father or—that witch! Especially to that witch!"

"Fair well, love," he returned with a smile.

The frown disappeared from her face but she still looked at him annoyingly. "And no more tricking me into taking baths."

"I just dislike seeing you so—so—well, so." He gestured to her person.

Anka had the sense to look sorry. "Yes, well... If you dislike it, think how much the witch must hate it. She was always going on about how beautiful and frail I was when I was younger. 'Oh, dear child,' she'd say, 'how pale you skin is. How rosy your lips, and your hair is like a curtain of night sky! It will be no problem to find you a suitable husband, my dear Vlanka.' And mother would laugh and say she intended to keep me here as long as possible, so long as a didn't give my heart away." She sighed. "I don't know what else to do to keep her from marring me off. If I leave who knows what she will do to father? She already makes him sick--"

"Anka," Kel said, a warning to what she was sure to say next.

"--she'll kill him like she did with mother." She finished defiantly, and looked at Kel, daring him to tell her she was wrong.

She was, of course. Karryn had died because she had become ill, and no one, not even Karryn, herself

the best Healer in the land, had been able to find a cure. "Xafina didn't kill Karryn. Anka, we've talked about this. You resent her for taking your mother's place, but that doesn't mean she killed your mother."

"She did!" Anka screamed, suddenly very agitated.

"You don't know that, you just want it to be true." Kel looked at her closely.

"I," Anka looked at him, she seemed confused. "No, I know she killed my mother. I know it."

"How?" He asked softly.

Anka put a hand to her head, as if it hurt to think about it. "I don't—remember. But I know, and I hate her. I hate her!"

"Hush now, hush, love. Fair well." He took her into his arms and tried to comfort the girl.

"It's just, I know she did, Kel."

"Yes, love."

"I hate her and I hate this castle, because she loves it, because she killed my mother to get it. That's why I have to find Xifara. So that she can take away the gift. So that she can destroy this place."

Ah, Vlanka, you'd destroy yourself and your whole kingdom just to spite her, Kel thought as he held the girl who was like a daughter to him.

"I must be off, bed sheets don't wash themselves you know." She pulled back, wiping away tears, and forced a smile.

"And princesses shouldn't do such tasks." He helped her by wiping her other eye.

"I'm a pretend princess, remember? And this is a pretend kingdom."


AN: I hope that was cryptic, because that was what I was going for.