KRESSAYA WATCHED THE NEARBY BOATS pass by. From the deck of the keelboat she had managed to bargain her way onto, the fourteen-year-old girl could see the glimmer beyond the horizon as the sun slowly set to make way for nighttime. Home.
Home no more.
Sai is a good place. Pleasant people, clean streets and enough money and motivation to keep everyone going. For Aya, however, it was also hell.
Her oldest sister had escaped two years ago. Aya was barely twelve, and she couldn’t understand why. One day, her sister was here. The next day, she was gone, and her father was furiously slamming his fists against the table in a fit of rage. Quickly, his chancellors came up with a story- Hypatia Lin is out visiting a relative. No one questioned it. Aya wondered if it was out of fear or lack of curiosity.
“I’ll suggest you get below deck. The winds are only going to get stronger.”
The captain’s son could only be a year or two older than her. Kressaya shot him a withering look as he fell in place besides her. “I’m Saian, the cold doesn’t bother me.”
“I’ve met plenty of Saians who caught a cold while travelling on this very ship at this time of year.”
The boy was Lecroxan, Aya would assume from his coppery skin. There were plenty of Lecroxan sailors travelling in the three kingdoms of Sai, Lecrox and Arecia. There were other countries, but those three were the strongest, the biggest, the best.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Will you, though?” He hummed thoughtfully. “Y’know, you never really answered my questions when you first boarded this boat.”
“I don’t have to answer you, boy.”
A laugh. “Boy? I’m sixteen. You’re, what, fourteen?” His estimation was correct, much to Aya’s annoyance.
“Answer me, girl,” he shot with a chuckle. “Why is a little girl travelling with her little sister without parents from Sai to Arecia?”
“It’s a very long story, something neither of us have time for right now,” Aya replied with an incendiary glower enough to scorch the earth, except for the fact they were at sea right now.
“Considering I’m here talking to you, and you’ve been standing on the deck for the past hour staring into the distance, I’d say we have plenty of time.”
“I don’t have to answer your questions,” Aya repeated, this time much firmer than before.
“You’re on my father’s boat.”
Aya had to bite her tongue to stop herself from snapping at the boy. Instead of answering, she asked, “What’s your name?”
“Kaol. What’s yours?” “Aya.”
No one would recognise her. Her father made sure little to no one ever caught sight of his three young daughters. All they knew of her was her name and her age. Kressaya of Sai. Aged fourteen.
“Why are you travelling from Sai to Arecia alone?” He persisted, and Aya had to resist the urge to push him off the ship.
“I’m not alone. I’m with my sister.”
“Your sister is what, nine? Ten? You’re practically travelling by yourself, Aya,” Kaol pressed. “I don’t understand how any parent would let their child do that. These seas can get dangerous. Unless you’re an orphan, which would make sense.”
“I’m not an orphan.” Aya’s eyes were glued to the calm sea.
“You have to be rich. You’re decked in expensive clothes. You managed to pay us, but we know you have more to spare. You speak fluent Arecian. Even more fluent than me,” he continued. The last comment is true. Kaol spoke Arecian with an obvious accent. Aya’s father had taken care in making sure all of his children spoke fluent Arecian. Arecian is the most widely used language in all of the kingdoms. But it was also a dead giveaway for her noble status.
“So what if I am?”
“What kind of lord or lady would let their young children travel across the sea alone without a servant or two?”
“A cruel one.”
“Ah-ha. Family issues. Are you running away, m’lady?”
“I am not a lady,” Aya replied curtly, just short of snappish. “I’m just a common girl.”
“No you’re not,” Kaol chuckled in reply. “You’re a very bad liar. I’ve seen and met many liars in my life. You are one of the worst.”
“What do you know, boy?” Aya fired back, nose flaring.
“I know that you’re proud, from what you just said.” A people reader. The kind she desperately wanted to avoid on this voyage. The less questions, the better. She may be able to lie, but what of her sister? Urella would spill everything in a matter of seconds if asked. “I know that the noblemen of Sai are known for being very proud people, not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. You don’t look like you came out from the slums of the kingdom. You smell of perfume.”
“I paid you to bring me to Arecia, not to harass me with questions,” Aya replied, raising her head high.
“I can do as I please, lady,” Kaol said with a mocking bow. Aya flexed her jaw, visibly angered. She wanted to be alone right now, not to entertain some sailor’s boy’s useless rambles.
“Since I’m a lady,” Aya drawled, “and the fact I technically paid you to service me,” another pause, “I can command you to shut up.”
“Ah-ah! Another sign of someone who’s used to being in power. But I’m afraid this is my father’s boat, and hence also mine. I can do what I want, ask whatever questions I wish to.”
It was at this point Aya really wanted to shove him into the waters.
“What do you want?”
“I cannot answer your questions.”
“I don’t want to answer your questions.”
“I’m afraid you don’t have much of a choice, lady,” his dark eyes seemed to twinkle as the sun dropped below the horizon, visibly amused by her unwillingness to cave in and give him the answers he wanted. Aya would not give him the satisfaction of succeeding. Aya Lin has always been a petty person. The small victories counted just as much as the big ones.
They must be passing by one of the island nations in the Veriman sea. In the darkness, Aya could barely make out the torches and lights from small cabins and houses in the distance.
“Is that Gyra?” She asked curiously, tilting her head. Her dark hair fell to one shoulder, and she quickly brushed it back. Vanity matters.
A nod was his reply. “Gyra. Very small, rather poor, but it’s a nice place for us sailors to dock and have a decent meal and a good night’s sleep.”
“You’ve been there?” Aya asked, a brow raised. “What is it like?”
“Very small and very poor, miss,” he replied with a small smirk. Aya had to resist the urge to grab one of the few knives she had kept with her and carve it off his face.
“But they’re an Arecian vassal state. Shouldn’t it be a bit more… advanced?”
“Gyra has little purpose to anyone but sailors, to be quite honest with you,” he said with a shrug. “My guess is that the Arecian government didn’t see a point in investing too much in it. Besides, it’s a nice and quaint place. Very different from the busy kingdoms.”
Aya didn’t answer for a bit.
She has been on this ship for around a week now. From what she has read, it usually takes two to three weeks for the usual ship to travel across the Veriman sea. She spent most of her time either in her tiny cabin with Urella, or on the deck, just like this. Most of the crew stayed out of her way. Maybe they could smell the nobility on her, or they realised that the girl was not in the mood to speak to any of them. The sailor’s boy, however, pressed her with his questions, so curious for an answer.
There’s no doubt her family is trying to hunt her down. They already lost one daughter. They’re not going to lose the other two either. Aya had offered to bring her older brother, her father’s heir, with her. Trystane had refused. If he left, one of their cousins would become the heir. If any of them ever wished to step foot on Saian land again, Trystane has to stay.
One of the reasons why she stayed on the deck so much. Looking for one of her father’s ships. Watching out for any ship that got too close. She and Urella could not afford to get caught. What is waiting for them back there is worse than death.
Hypatia is waiting for them over there.
It was a sailor just like Kaol who had told her where her sister was. Aya had always liked sneaking out to the city, dressed as a common girl. A sailor from Avenworth, the capital of Arecia. He told her that there was a girl there, with dark hair and Saian looks who had established a spy house. He told her there were rumours she’s Princess Hypatia of Sai, and that the king had been lying about where she was.
Aya had instantly known. She asked the sailor when he’d set sail. He told her in two days. That night, she had rushed back to the palace and composed a lengthy letter. She gave the sailor the letter, gave him a hefty amount of gold and told him to give it to Hypatia.
He returned a few months later with a letter as well. Addressed to her. From Hypatia.
It matched hers in length, but Aya only cared about three words.
I await you.
She started planning her escape that very night. She was so excited. She could leave. She wouldn’t have to worry about getting married off to some random prince. And then, Urella caught her one night while she was secretly packing. Her sister threatened to tell their father unless Aya brought her with her.
And now, they were here. It was too late to turn back now. The deed had been done. They had to succeed.
“I’ll leave you to enjoy your time here. I’ll head down for dinner. Feel free to join us.”
Aya wasn’t hungry. She had asked the cook for a bit of food a while ago.
“Take my sister with you,” she replied politely. “She must be starving.”
Kaol promised her he would.
And now, Aya was alone on the deck once more, the cold breeze brushing against her skin, as she shut her eyes. The night was quiet, the waves calm and slow. The girl thought it was beautiful. Gyra slowly disappeared into the fog, and the ship’s lights flickered on.
From the corner of her eye, Aya could spot a ship approaching. Squinting, Aya could barely make out a flag, the flag of-
Aya instantly scrambled downstairs, but the ship had already noticed her. The girl ran into the cabins. There had been few passengers on the ship. The crew, around four to five passengers and some cargo.
Aya heard arrows slam against the ship’s wood.
“What the fu-”
Everyone got onto the deck within instants. Aya ushered Urella back downstairs, making the girl promise that she’ll swim away at the first sign of danger. Both girls were half-nymph, and could survive a decent amount of time in the water. Gyza wasn’t too far away. If anything happens, Urella should be able to swim there…
The captain was by Aya’s side within a second. “What is going on?” He hissed, his voice low and cautious. “Who is in that ship?”
“You don’t want to know. You won’t be able to beat them in naval battle, you need to get out of here as fast as you can-”
“-I want answers. Who are they?”
Aya stared him dead in the eye. “Saian soldiers, probably. If my father decides to stoop lower, mercenaries. But they won’t dare do too much. They want me and my sister alive.”
“So you are running away,” Kaol said in disbelief, grabbing his rifle. “Who is your father?”
Aya opened her mouth to answer, but an arrow shot through the air at that very instant, piercing her cheek. Aya suddenly felt wet liquid dripping down.
Drip, drip, drip.
All eyes were on her.
And then, the small, golden puddle on the floor.
Kaol’s eyes widened. “You said your name is Aya. You call your sister Ella. Gold blood. You’re related to the royal line,” a pause, as the gears in his brain turned in motion. “Your name isn’t Aya. It’s Kressaya. Your sister isn’t Ella. She’s Princess Urella of Sai.”
Another volley of arrows were shot. This time, Aya had enough time to block most of them with a giant wave. The wave, however, also turned the ship violently unstable as it leaned towards one side. And then, it was calm again.
“Daughter of the nymph queen and wraith king. But why?” One of the passengers asked, his eyes not moving away from the golden puddle.
Saian royalty had always had golden blood. At least in her bloodline. The Lin dynasty, proud and true. All the rulers had golden blood. It wasn’t rare for people like her to have strangely shaded blood. She knew there was a race in the south who had silver blood. Some of the witches in the north were rumoured to have blood as dark as ink. Her mother’s blood ran blue.
“Trust me, you don’t want to know. How fast can this thing go?”
“Not fast enough,” the captain reported. “Is the Saian government going to be after us, now?”
The thing was, Aya doesn’t know. Aya always knew her father was unstable, but how unstable? Would he go after a sailor’s crew just for unknowingly helping his daughter escape? It wouldn’t be out of character if he does.
“Get below the deck.”
“Wait, what? No. This is my ship, I need to know-”
“-now, unless you want to be tossed off by a giant wave and thrown into the freezing ocean.”
The captain cursed under his breath. “Right. Nymph queen. Should I fetch your sister?”
“Keep Urella downstairs. If things get out of control, she should be able to get you all to at least Gyra. I’ll apologise for the damage that might be done to the ship, but if we make it out of this alive, I’ll pay you enough to get a new one,” Aya snapped. Then, she turned her head to the petrified passengers and crew. “Now go.”
They wanted them alive. It wouldn’t be good press if it got out that the King of Sai killed his own daughter. She’ll be able to use that against the ship right on their tail. It was twice their size, and she could spot archers on the ship.
Once they were all downstairs, Aya plunged into the icy oceans.
Aya is half-nymph, so the icy water barely fazed her. The girl opened her eyes, taking a moment to admire the astonishing view before swimming towards the other ship. She doesn’t want to kill everyone in the other ship. Just delay it enough for this one to get away. Technically, the safest option was for her and Urella to jump off and swim to Gyra. If they make enough of a show, the ship would follow them and leave the poor crew and keelboat alone. But heading to Gyra also means putting all the sailors and people there in danger. Her father would tear the world apart to find them.
No one was going to die because of her. Not today.
They had no nymphs on board. All the nymphs were her mother’s to command, and Aya knew her mother wouldn’t lend her father any if she knew it was to chase them down. Queen Alanna and King Jing did not get along.
So Aya was safe as she placed her hand against the other ship’s hull.
And then, she pushed.
Here’s the thing with aquakinesis- the ocean is big. No nymph can control all the water in the world, which means that when you’re battling in the ocean, water is both your best friend and your worst enemy. You may be able to summon a wave to drown the enemy, but a rogue wave could sink your vessel as well. Aquakinesis required extraneous concentration and discipline, hence why Aya had always preferred her wraith abilities.
Urella was their mother’s daughter. The girl did not inherit one inch of her father’s wraith powers, much to his dismay and her mother’s delight. Urella inherited their grandma’s gifts of healing, which proved to be so useful that even her father grudgingly accepted it.
Instantly, it was as if all the water in the ocean was slamming against the ship, pushing it back. Aya winced. She could feel the streams fighting against her. She was only half-nymph. The waters would not accept her as their own.
She’ll have to prove that she’s worthy to control them. Easier said than done.
Aya let her eyes shut.
Her mother always made it look easy. She still remembered her aquamancy lessons in the palace pool, her mother creating dolphins and birds from water, and she had watched in awe. When it was her turn, Aya couldn’t even raise the water for more than thirty seconds.
“Stop looking at me for approval,” her mother had scowled. “You’re splitting up your concentration. If you can hold it up, you know you’re doing it right.”
There was no one she had to please now. She was alone.
The ship started to tilt.
Aya took the chance to push some water towards the other boat, changing the direction. Hopefully, Urella gathers her wits and uses her own abilities to stabilise the ship. It would be a pity if it sank. They had many precious things there. Things they could sell for money, clothes and food.
Much to her relief, the keelboat didn’t sink.
A full-blood nymph can be insanely powerful. Her mother, for example, is whispered to be able to control all the water in the Gi river. But Aya was a half-blood. A half-wraith. She did not have her mother’s power.
Aya felt like she was suffocating.
And so, she kicked up, until her head was bobbing above the surface, and she could suck in a breath. A mistake. The moment she did, arrows and rocks were being thrown towards her. Aya ducked back into the water. Instantly, she felt as if she couldn’t breathe again. She gasped for air, clawing at her throat.
She will not die like this.
Kressaya Lin is many things. A princess, a wraith, a nymph, but most importantly of all, a survivor.
She will not die like this.
Aya slammed another wave into the vessel.
She will not die like this.
Aya pushed the keelboat as far as she could in the other direction.
Aya let her head go above the surface once again. But this time, before the onslaught of arrows and projectiles could even reach her, Aya summoned the biggest wave she ever had to slam against the ship.
Water splashed on the ship’s decks. Screams and yells, sailors alarmed as they came out with buckets.
Aya let herself sink back into the water, holding her breath.
She propelled herself towards the keelboat, hoping to use the moment’s advantage to get it out of harm’s way.
Then, someone tapped her on the shoulder.
Aya let out a small shriek, snapping her head towards the side, to see a blue-skinned woman standing besides her. A nymph. A full-blood one, probably residing in the nearby waters.
“Your mother thought you might want help,” she said shyly, her blue cheeks turning into a shade of navy. Aya let out a small smile, pointing to the keelboat. Thank Gods. So her mother does know. Perhaps too afraid to help directly, but no one would say anything about a nymph. No one would even know.
“Can you get it as far away as you can?”
The nymph nodded. “Give me a moment.”
And the girl was off. Aya, now assured of the keelboat’s safety, watched the Saian ship warily. They were outnumbered, outpowered, outplayed. His father’s sailors and soldiers aren’t idiots. They’re some of the smartest people she knows. They’ll get the water out soon and go after the ship. Or maybe they’ll stay and search the icy waters for her.
Either way, Aya does not intend to be here when that happens. And so, she kicks after the keelboat.
The princess will have her revenge another day.
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