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PostPosted: Fri Oct 26, '07, 12:02 am
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Prince Rhys of Landen walked along the base of the last mountain in the range northeast of the coastal village called Ilan. As he walked, his thoughts drifted, reflecting on the recent changes in his life. He could hardly believe that it had only been two months since he found that mysterious young woman unconscious on the shores near his castle home. When she had recovered, she told Rhys and his father that she could not remember anything of her past other than her name, Maia. In the time that followed, Rhys and Maia had grown very close. Rhys thought life was good then, but it became even better when she agreed to be his bride.

On the most important day in Rhys' life, the day he was supposed to be wed, everything went wrong. The day began perfectly; there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun shone brightly. As the ceremonies started, a monster – a dragon, no less – crashed through the ceiling and grabbed the bride. Filled with anger as he watched the demon of Laya carry Maia through the new sunroof of his father's throne room, Rhys swore to find her again. He called for the army to begin a search, but the King had dismissed that command and instead ordered that Rhys be placed in a cell within the castle's basement to cool off. Angered at both the dragon and his father, the young prince brooded inside the cell for a few moments, rummaging in the three chests kept in the room. He was surprised to find a young woman outside the cell when he looked up, but grateful when she freed him. Even if his father did not approve, Rhys knew that he must rescue Maia from the beast that had stolen her away. He set out from the home of his ancestors in search of the love he had known for only a short time.

Locating Layans had proven more difficult than Rhys had expected. Rumors of spies had run rampant for as long as the prince could remember, but none had actually been found. It seemed the King had been correct; no one may have seen a Layan since the great war a thousand years ago. Flocks of Chirpers, the small, pudgy birds once bred by enemy kingdoms to overrun Orakian lands such as Landen, were common enough. They had prospered in the wilderness, even if their masters were long gone.

After visiting two villages, the inexperienced prince had heard of a woman, with eyes that did not blink, living near a lake in this area. One of the townspeople suggested that the strange woman must indeed be a Layan. The villager had asked, "Aren't Layans known to do all sorts of unnatural things?"

Lacking any other leads, Rhys had decided to investigate the rumor. It had taken him the better part of an hour, and several more Chirpers, to find the general area of the lake. The prince had determined that it must be behind these mountains. Now he had almost reached the eastern side of the range.

As Rhys walked around a boulder, he was taken by surprise when an animal with large antlers suddenly rushed from a concealed crevice. "A moos! Wonderful... that's just what I needed," Rhys commented sarcastically as he rose from the ground. "Time for another monomate." Quickly pulling a small vial of reddish liquid from a pouch at his side, Rhys drank the entire contents in one gulp. In an instant, his strength was replenished.

The moos took advantage of the distraction to charge at Rhys again, but the prince quickly dodged. A countering lunge with his knives left two long gashes in the creature's hide, slowing it considerably. Being a rather unintelligent monster, the moos tried another lunge. This time Rhys was able to fell the beast with a quick stab at the throat, taking puncture wounds in his shoulder from the antlers in return. After drinking another monomate for some relief from the new pain, the victorious warrior bent to one knee next to his fallen foe. "I'd better cut off these antlers. I can trade them in for meseta when I return to the village. That was my last monomate. I'm going to need a lot more at this rate!"

Leaving the carcass in the grass for other wild animals to feed on, Rhys turned back to his path. The battle had brought him within view of the lake. In the distance, he thought he could see someone standing on the bank, looking out across the water. With a sigh, Rhys shook his head, "I was planning to approach more carefully, but I suppose that's out of the question now. Layan or not, whoever is out there has likely seen me already."

[hr]

Standing there by the lake, she watched as the armored man approached boldly, making no move to hide his passage. With a slight, almost unnoticeable sigh, she silently wondered, "Is this would-be another bandit thinking a woman alone makes an easy mark for robbery?" With her hands behind her back, she tightened her grip on the sharp claw she was hiding from view. She could see he had two knives, but carried little else. "It will be easy enough to teach this one a lesson like the others," she decided in her thoughts. "He may have taken down that moos, but I'm not nearly as easy to kill."

Unmoving, she waited as he stopped several feet away. The man looked around, "Wondering if I'm really alone," she thought. As he was taking in the terrain, she appraised him by the way he carried himself and the battle she had witnessed. "Strong posture, a determined look, some weapons training but little real combat experience... he's different, somehow. Not just a bandit... he has a reason for being here. What is it, I wonder?"

When his attention turned from the surroundings to her, she met his gaze without wavering. After a few moments, a disturbed look crossed his face, one that he quickly suppressed. "Yes, that's right little bandit. You've met the 'scary monster girl' that doesn't blink."

After regaining his composure, the stranger called to her in a firm, determined voice. "I am Rhys of Landen, prince of these lands by the blood of Orakio! Name yourself, stranger! Are you one of Laya's minions, like the dragon that attacked Landen?"

"A Prince of Landen," she thought, "with the blood of Orakio? His family was reported to have founded a settlement in this area. Maybe..." Relaxing from her ready stance, the woman answered, "No, I'm not one of Laya's people, Prince. I am a combat cyborg, designation Mieu type."

Rhys was taken aback. "A cyborg? How is that possible? The only cyborgs in these lands today are small machines used for farming and domestic duties. You are nothing like them; you appear human at first glance!"

"I have as much in common with those mechanoids as you have with the moos you just met. You and the moos are both organic creatures, born of a mother and aging with each year, but you are a more advanced being. In the same manner, the cyborgs you know and I are of a similar nature, but I am far beyond their complexity," the cyborg replied. "In fact, they are not even really cyborgs. It would be more accurate to call them simple machines. I have been sleeping nearby for many years until someone roused me by accident. I avoided the villages since because the people thought me unusual, but I'm finished with that. If you're searching for Layans, I will travel with you."

"Um, okay...," surprised by the offer, Rhys was not certain on his reply at first. "After that last fight, I know I could use some help. Did you say your name was Mieu?"

After considering the question for a brief moment, the cyborg nodded. "My designation is Mieu type. If you wish to call me 'Mieu,' that is acceptable. What is our destination; where shall we search for Layans?" She walked to the prince's side, waiting for his instructions.

"I've heard that the dragon went to the island south of Landen, but let's head for Ilan first," answered Rhys. He turned south to begin retracing his path to the village. "That town is the closest and I'm running low on supplies."

"As you wish, Prince Rhys," Mieu replied with a smile, following slightly behind.

The pair began the trek back to the small village, encountering a handful of Chirpers along the way. Together, they were able to make short work of the birds. Rhys was surprised by Mieu's fighting prowess. She bounded around the battlefield like a bouncing ball, dodging most strikes of their foes. He had never seen such a display of agility.

The pair stopped briefly at a bridge. Across the wooden span, they could see the short buildings of a village. "Ilan is over there," Rhys commented while pointing. "After we're across the bridge, we'll probably have to fight something stronger than Chirpers."

"Not a problem," Mieu nodded. "I'm sure we'll be able to take out whatever pops up." She started onward at brisk pace. "It has been a long time since I visited a town. I'm curious to see how things have changed."

Rhys nodded and quickly jogged up to Mieu's side. They continued walking toward the village, encountering nothing stronger than another Moos for a while. About one hundred yards from the village, they stumbled on a pair of Glowtoads. Working together, the fighters were able to dispatch these creatures as well, but not before Rhys was poisoned by their bite.

"Uhhh..." The Prince of Landen groaned weakly as the poison ran through his body. He collapsed to his knees after taking a few steps, too badly wounded to go much farther.

"Prince Rhys!" Mieu rushed to his side with concern lacing her voice. As she rolled him onto his back, she spoke in a soothing tone, "Don't worry. You'll be feeling better in a moment." Kneeling beside her prone companion, Mieu held her hands out above his body. As she concentrated, a glow began to surround her hands, strengthening in intensity as she lowered them to Rhys' chest. When the young man's eyes widened and he began to pull away, she continued in a whisper. "Stay still; this won't hurt a bit. I'm going to purge the poison from your system and then heal your wounds." As she finished, her hands at last made contact and the glow spread to Rhys' torso, before fading. She repeated the procedure, this time with a blue glow.

Almost immediately, Rhys felt better. As he unsteadily rose to a sitting position, he asked, "Was that... magic? I thought only Layans possessed such strange powers!"

"No, Prince," Mieu answered softly, helping him to his feet. "It's not magic. Those were 'techniques.' During the war of one thousand years ago, the Layans and their biomonsters began using destructive techniques in large numbers during combat. Some Orakians were able to use techniques, also, but not as well or in the same capacity as the Layans and their biomonsters. Orakio's armies were already beginning to use machines as soldiers, to counter the enemy forces. Scientists developed a way to give those machines the ability to use techniques as a counter to the Layan advantage. When I was... made... I was also given the ability to use techniques, but only ones that heal." The red-haired cyborg looked to the darkening sky and quickly changed the subject. "We should hurry, if we want to reach the village by nightfall. We could both use a good rest."

"Yeah..." Rhys seemed surprised by Mieu's tale. He had never given much thought to the details of the ancient war. According to stories handed down across the generations in Landen, most of the city's cyborgs had been lost to age or biomonster extermination missions in the decades immediately following the Orakio-Laya War. A few of the smaller machines were still in use, but they were a mismatch of pieces assembled from others that had failed. Rhys had no idea of exactly how they were made or how old they really were.

The remainder of the trip to the town was uneventful, with no additional biomonsters appearing. Rhys ran the idea of having a traveling companion that could use something very much like magic through his head as he walked. When they reached Ilan, the sun was already setting, so the pair went straight to the inn, with Mieu looking closely at each building as they walked. She noted all the small details of their construction, but kept her thoughts to herself. When Rhys asked what was on her mind, she just shook her head with a silent, sad look.

At the inn, Rhys paid the innkeeper for a night's stay, then ordered a meal in the neighboring dining area. When he sat a table to await the meal, he thought nothing of it when Mieu followed and sat with him a moment later. However, he was surprised when two plates arrived, with one being set in front of Mieu.

When she noticed his quizzical look, Mieu smiled slightly as she answered his unspoken question. "Yes, I eat like you do. I am a cyborg... that term means a being is partly machine and partly organic. I have real flesh, just like you, and parts of my insides are made of metal. To keep my living tissues alive, I need to eat and rest like a human. I have all the same emotions, feelings, and thoughts. The only real difference between any woman you've seen before and myself is that I have some metal in my body."

Rhys nodded, and continued to prepare his food thoughtfully. While they ate, Rhys told Mieu about his quest so far, from finding Maia, to the kidnapping, to setting off alone. In turn told him more of her past and the nature of cyborgs, techniques, and other tales of knowledge lost in the decline of civilization. As the hours passed, they talked a while longer, becoming better acquainted with each other and with making plans for the next day.
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