Life as an street urchin wasn't fun to say the least. Aida swore never to resolve to thievery again, and chanced upon a convent. She was covered in grime and dirt when a sister opened the door, took a long look at her and ushered her inside. It was early morning, the moon was still high in the sky, and Aida shivered underneath the weight of the wind.
The sister was older than her, surely past thirty summers, and she spoke seriously but not unkindly. Her face was slightly lined and she had generous, clear eyes. Aida answered her questions honestly and to the best of her ability, but her thoughts were fogged with fatigue and hunger. She had been wandering for what seemed an eternity, delirious and lost. All that kept her anchored was the memory of Escher's words, and the sensation that she had to stay alive until he found her.
Escher... Aida wasn't sure why she was drawn to him, but she was irrevocably so. He protected her while she had been held captive by the thieves, and she wasn't sure she would have survived otherwise. For this, she owed him and she was bent on repaying her debt. He risked his life for her and she'd never forget it.
"This is an orphanage, child," the sister spoke, her voice old and soft. "We cannot keep you here, for you are too old to be cared for."
"I know," Aida supplied, gathering determination. "Surely, there's something I can do to earn my keep? I can take care of the children or perform domestic chores. I won't be a bother, I promise!"
"And where are your parents, child?"
Aida clasped her hands together. "I don't know," she answered honestly. She couldn't remember much before she had been brought to the thieves. "I... was taken to live with thieves and I managed to escape. I have nowhere else to go... I know how to cook and clean, and anything else I can learn! Please don't turn me away." Her eyes were wet with tears and Aida knew Escher would disapprove. Just the thought of him made her feel more alone than ever.
The sister regarded her for a moment and then sighed. "Alright, child. You will be charged with the domestic chores here. Your duties start tomorrow. Follow me as I search for a room where you can sleep until we find you a proper place."
How long had it been since he'd seen Aida? Months, now. He'd endured two months after he'd let her escape, but the wanton cruelty of the thieves towards him had become too much to bear. Still, to keep Aida safe, he kept his mouth shut, enduring the beatings and the degradation. It had been a worthy sacrifice. Aida was simply too wholesome and too kind for that life and she was going to end up getting killed if she continued there. He couldn't let that happen. Escher wasn't sure why he felt that she was his responsibility, but once he took her up there was no letting her down. And so, life there had become hell. It seemed he was lucky that the royal family had intervened, but he was starting to think that the solution was worse than the problem.
They called him the tainted one. Gossipers at Court were many, quiet ones there were not. He heard the rumors and speculations, the insults and curses with acuity. Everyday Escher wanted to bolt, but then he saw a young, terrified face in the crowd or wheat colored hair in the street. Aida had been the only one who believed in him, and she had been brought to him as a sort of gift. He was warned that her company was temporary, until they found a high bidder, but by then it was too late. Escher had bonded with her and started to attach himself to her, and he wouldn't let her be sold. It filled him with a perverse satisfaction at the faces of anger and contempt that the thieves had shown him when he revealed that he'd let her leave. Every beating was another league that she had traveled, and that made it feel like a victory.
Escher often wondered, especially in the solitude of the castle, why he had gotten so attached with Aida. He wasn't sure why she was to be sold, or why she had been brought to him. He figured the thieves were too lazy to look after her themselves, and they were of the same age, destined play mates perhaps? He didn't linger too much on those thoughts because they didn't matter. She had come, that summer day, pristine and lovely. She had been dressed in white, he remembered, and she had extended her hand to him, unaware of what was happening or too courteous to not do so.
From then on, a sort of fantasy persisted between them. They pretended they were on an adventure. When there was little to eat, they pretended they were the last survivors in a foreign, lost land and they were going to survive no matter what. She was his comrade, his ally, the only person he could trust. They were everything to each other.
And even when she learned that she was going to be sold, even then she had flat out refused to leave him. Stupid, obstinate girl. After that point there was no denying the fondness he felt for her, and it was too late to let her go.
An entire winter since she'd seen Escher.
There were many children in the orphanage, but Aida never got to know them very well as they were constantly coming and going. It was wonderful that they were getting adopted so quickly, but it made finding a steady friend difficult. The sisters didn't speak to her much, they were always active and busy with adoptions. Aida volunteered herself as much as she could to go out to the market but the sisters warned her that they were many who would snatch children and enslaved them and they kept her inside. Still, Aida escaped once in a while, desperately seeking Escher as she wandered the streets.
I promise I'll find you. It doesn't matter where you go, I'll find you.
Aida couldn't be still. If he was searching for her, she'd search for him too. That way they could find each other faster.
She turned, pausing her task. This was a sister she saw infrequently, hardly more than her age, and worn down. Her shoulders always sagged, as if she had some insurmountable burden that wouldn't lessen.
"Tomorrow is your rebirth. Are you prepared?"
Aida smiled, "Yes."
Tomorrow she'd be recognized by the church and leave all her past sins behind. She'd be reborn, with a new name and a new life. It was a hopeful prospect. She'd step forward, into a new stage and leave everything behind.
Everything except Escher.
Just to be clear, this diverges completely from the Chaos Rings path. In fact, those events (the ark) will never happen. If you've like what you read, review! :)