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Chapter One: The Lady in the Water – Part One

The strong aroma of burning oak rose toward the sky, filling the nearby jungle with a sense of comfort that a village was near. A young man with dark golden eyes and white spiky hair let out a sigh of relief. Turning to peer over his shoulder; he slowed his pace for his compainion.

"We're almost there m'lady, then you can soak your aching feet in a nice warm bath." He laughed sarcastically.

The girl stopped to catch her breath, leaning up against a tree she raised an eyebrow toward her male compainion in disbelief. They had been wondering for days in the overgrown jungle of poisonous plants, filthy ponds, and oversized beasts. If she didn't know better, she would think his sense of direction was just as poor as her own. Which would make perfect sense considering they've never visited this side of the continent. It didn't matter though, just as long as they were far away…from them…

"Aki, we've been smelling burning wood for a day and a half now, it could be just a forest fire from that storm earlier. I highly doubt people would live 'here'. Honestly, this place is a death trap, I'm surprised we've made it this far!"

"You just settle down missy. Obviously the extreme heat has effected your thinking."

"What are you talking about? Extreme heat is effecting my thinking? You're the one that got us lost not once, not twice, but five times since we've entered into this sauna!"

"Alright Seph, let me break it down for you. I'll admit I got us lost…once…"

"Once my butt…" Seph broke in. "Obviously the extreme heat is effecting your thinking."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Aki's expression changed to something more suiting for the situation. His cat-like eyes narrowed to reflect her stare back at her as the two stared each other down for several long moments.

"Are you finished?" Aki asked, breaking the long silence between them.

"I suppose so." Seph answered quickly as she swiped her long chestnut brown hair away from her dark blue eyes.

"Great! Now, back to what I was saying…"

"Heh, you'll never change will you Aki? Even though you won't admit that we're lost, you still have hope that we'll get out of here." Sigh. "Too bad I can't feel the same."

"Pay attention Seph!"

"Huh? Oh, sorry, continue."

"Are you alright?"

"I'm fine. It just this damn heat! Anyway, go on."

"Ok, that burning wood we've been smelling for the last day or so? It happens to be oak and if I remember correctly in our lessons, oak normally doesn't grow in a jungle."

"You actually paid attention to Miss. Kayla's lessons? That's a hoot!" Seph laughed, unable to stop herself from breaking into Aki's explanation once again. Aki let out an in-warily sigh. It has always been a battle to keep Seph focused on anything. Her attention span was that of a three-year-old.

"Yeah well, burning oak might mean there is a village near by. You know, maybe their cooking over it?"

"I suppose so." Seph yawned. "Though I'm not sure how oak would get imported to this place. I would think the people here if any, would be a band of uncivilized villagers."

"I guess we won't find out until we get there so let's get a move on."

Offering his hand, Seph hesitated to take it at first. With her energy almost depleted from days without food and hardly any water, it would come to no shock to her that Aki might have to carry her, but with her ego getting the better of her, that was an option she wasn't willing to take.

Using what strength she had left, the two made their way through the thick trees. With the smell of burning oak growing ever stronger and over powering, the two companions stumbled out of the jungle and into a vast opening with a gravel road. They could hear waves breaking onto shore from a distance. This in turn brought a sigh of relief out of Seph, for she really thought they were doomed to die in that jungle, never to be seen or heard of again.

"I think someone owes me an apology." Aki joked.

"I don't owe you anything!" Seph snorted. "We just got lucky, that's all and besides, look at this, who uses a gravel road anymore…"

Before Seph could continue, Aki raised his hand to shush her. A small boy no more then seven of age slowly made his way toward them. His expression blank and his eyes as black as death itself. Aki's keen sense of smell became overwhelmed by the stench that rolled off the boy. So much so, that he had to back away.

"What's wrong with that kid?" Seph asked, more to herself. She began to jog to meet the boy; Aki's voice called out from behind her, telling her to stop and head back, but it was already too late. Seph stopped in front of the child, who gave no response or acknowledgement that she was even there. He just continued on his way toward the jungle.

"Hey kid, what's your problem? You know it's bad manners to not at least acknowledge someone as you're walking by them don't you? Didn't your mother teach you … hey, stop ignoring me!"

Reaching out to grab the boy, Seph's hand stopped abruptly. Moving swiftly in-between the two, Aki took Seph's hand into his own and away from the child. "Don't touch him!"

Thrown slightly off guard, Seph took several steps back before gaining her composer.

"What's your problem Aki? I should knock you out! Who do you think you are grabbing me like that?"

"I'm sorry, but I couldn't let you…"

"It's just a kid! What's he going to do to me, huh?"

"Seph, look at him!" Aki shouted, his voice becoming just as angry. "There's something wrong with him. I'm not sure what's going on, but it's clear something is off."

Seph turned her gaze toward the boy, who by then began his journey into the very jungle that she and Aki so desperately wanted to get out of. He was right though; the kid did appear to be sickly.

"Alright, so what should we do?" Seph sighed as she turned her gaze back toward Aki.

"I think we should head in the direction the boy came from. If there's a village, maybe we'll find some answers there."

"I'm not even sure if I want to know." Seph spoke softly. "The last thing I want is to catch whatever that kid has. I mean, come on, what if it's…hey!"

Realizing she was more or less talking to herself, Seph raced to catch up with Aki. A part of her a bit frightened. Though it has been a little over a year since their escape, the two were still learning about the world they live in. Seph could still hear Miss. Kayla's comforting voice as she spoke of the outside world. At that time Seph didn't really care about it, but now, she wished she had. "I guess it is a good thing Aki paid attention, who knows what would happen if he didn't…"

With the sun blazing down upon them, the two continued down the rocky road that weaved in and out of tree lines and around swampy marshes. The two couldn't help but notice the change in scenery. The landscape became desolate and baring, a land turned gray from death and despair. "How can anything survive here? Everything is dead…" Seph thought as they continued onward. The road finally came to a stop at a small wooden gate that sat upon a hill looking down at a tiny rundown village. At first glance the town looked abandoned, but as the two approached, several villagers came out to investigate them.

"What a sad day for you to venture into this cursed place." An elderly man spoke, his cloths appearing to be as old as he did.

"Hey you rumpus old fart! What kind of grandpa allows a child to wonder around sick like that! I should…"

"Seph stop it!" Aki cut in as he stepped forward till she was behind him. He then began to analyze not only the three villagers a head of them, but also the village itself. Half-caved in rooftops and crumbling walls full of moss told a story of hard times that had befallen the tiny village long ago. What made it odd was the fact that none of the villagers seemed motivated enough to even repair any of it. The very gravel road they stood upon was rundown enough to where it started to become mere mud.

"We're sorry young lady, but you shouldn't trifle with things you do not understand." The elderly man spoke again, this time slightly harsher.

"What do you mean by that?" Aki replied first in order to keep Seph quiet.

The three townsfolk spoke among themselves briefly before turning back to Aki. Though the two villagers who stood by the elderly man appeared to be younger, their eyes told another story. Almost as if their very youth had been taken from them right along with the village itself. Dirt and dust coated their skin in a darkish gray color and it was clearly visible by how skinny they were that they haven't seen a hearty meal in a long while.

"Since you'll most likely never leave this place…" The elderly man started. "You have the right to know. I'm sorry younglings, but you have unfortunately stumbled across a village that has been cursed…cursed by the lady in the water…"