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PostPosted: Mon Apr 12, '10, 7:01 am
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Chapter Two: Fortune

Madame Mito's
Fortunetelling, Chaossqua Card Reading, Oracle Extraordinare
Since AW 1492


The weather-worn sign, obviously painted and repainted many times, hung from the side of a small house tucked away in the southeastern corner of Landen's castle city. As it swung in the slight breeze, Ayn looked towards the sign, then to his companions. "I don't know," he said after a few seconds. "Is this really a good idea? It sounds like a waste of money..."

"Now, now, My Prince! This family is full of reputable fortunetellers!" Crossing her arms, Mieu smiled at Ayn. "Back when I was your age, the people of Ilan and Yaata pilgrimaged here annually just to hear a fortune from Madame Mito!"

Sari sweatdropped. "Mieu, just how long ago was this 'when I was your age' story?" she asked.

"Oh, give or take... five hundred years ago."

"Oh, God."

"And I assure you, Princess Sari, the fortuneteller said I would journey, sleep for two centuries, then be awakened by a blue-haired man, handsome as the devil! My fortune came true. ^_^"

Ayn still remained hesitant to enter the house, despite Mieu's reassurance. "Wren, you have any stories about this place?"

"Only that the Mito clan's exceptional accuracy could be explained by several scientific theories, Prince Ayn," the tall robot replied. "The most likely explanation is simple coincidence. Hallucinogenics may also be involved, as well as cold-reading. Thirdly, random guesswork may play a role, combined with subliminal suggestions: Mito tells you your future, you unconsciously work towards fulfilling it. The actual odds that Mito has any actual supernatural sense, especially in the Orakian-heavy Landen region, are 4250000:1 against."

"Wren, you're forgetting something," Sari interrupted. "You're talking to someone who can make someone move much faster just by touching them!"

"Princess Sari, the Techniques possessed by Layans can be easily emulated by machines such as myself," Wren countered. "There are also the handful of Orakians who believe Technical Energy is only superstition-"

"All right, all right," Ayn suddenly said. "Guys, I'm gonna go talk to Mito. Mieu, do me a favor?"

"Anything, My Prince!"

He gestured to Sari and Wren. "Make sure Wren doesn't talk Sari to death, and make sure Sari doesn't start stabbing Wren in the noggin."

"Ayn!" Sari called to him. "I'd never stab Wren in the head! I'd go for his neck- I can actually reach it!"

Sweatdropping, Ayn entered the stone house, then looked around. The entire room he had entered was draped in blue velvet curtains, blocking out the windows entirely. The only light in the room came from the open door, revealing several tapestries pinned to the curtains. Astrological symbols decorated the tapestries, and Ayn wondered at what they could represent. Star charts littered a small table tucked in a corner, and the prince recognized several of the stars' names- Ragol, Moebius, Coputo, and Gurhal were four familiar sights in Landen's sky, the four stars of the Staff Constellation. Scribbled notes near Gurhal read "Paulm, Moatoob, Neudiaz," causing Ayn to speculate as to their meaning.

"Those words keep coming from that star as I look at it," an old woman said, her voice filling the room. "I have yet to find what those mean."

"Oh! Madame Mito, is that you?"

"It is I, Prince Ayn Landen." The woman, a hideously aged old crone who might have been beautiful a very long time ago- Maybe when Wren was still being built, Ayn guessed- slowly appeared from behind one of the curtains, and the surprise on Ayn's face was obvious. "Yes," she continued. "I know who you are, Ayn. Your father and I spoke once, twenty years ago. I believe he found what he was looking for."

"If you mean my mother, then yes," Ayn replied.

"Good, good..." Mito motioned for Ayn to sit at a table. "Leave your blade by the door. You will not need it here, Prince."

Ayn nodded, unstrapping the curved blade he wore from his waist, resting it on a cabinet near the house's door. Once he sat, he asked, "Madame Mito? Is it true-"

"-That I can see the future?" Mito finished. "Prince Ayn, ever since Sage Damoa first taught his students the way of the oracle, fortunetellers like I have been told we could see things mortal man could not, and sometimes should not, see. Precognition is both our blessing and our damnation."

She chuckled. "But forgive an old woman's ramblings, Prince Ayn. You are here to see what your future holds, after all. Let me see what the cards have in store for you..."

As Ayn watched, Mito produced a wooden box, from which she took out a stack of thin ivory plaques. The fortuneteller shuffled the plaques like playing cards, then arranged them into a stack. "Draw from the chaossqua deck, Prince Ayn, and we shall see your past."

"Chaossqua?"

"In the old tongue, The Deck of Myriad Things."

Ayn looked at the deck of ivory cards, then took the top card. Looking at the card's face, Ayn saw a merchant's scale. One side was laden with gold and jewels, while the other side bore scholarly texts, scrolls, and books. Confused, he gave the card to Mito.

"Ah, the Balance," Mito intoned, placing the card before her. "This card means just that, Prince Ayn. Your past is balance- whether between good or evil, anarchy or axiomatism, you strive for the ever-elusive third solution: The middle ground. This card suggests that you seek to balance two parts of yourself."

Is she talking about Mother and Father?! Ayn thought. Her Layan ancestry is a state secret!

"Draw another card, Prince Ayn. This will reveal to you the present."

Nervously, Ayn took another one of the ivory cards. This time, the face of the card revealed a noble-looking man, his face creased with slight wrinkles. His brightly-colored turban and vest provided a youthful contrast to his long white beard and handlebar mustache.

"'The Vizier,'" Ayn read as he placed the card next to the Balance card.

"Indeed it is," Mito replied. "Like Balance, the Vizier has a meaning beyond the obvious. You seek a solution as to who is behind the attacks on Landen and Satera, the obvious meaning. The hidden meaning of the Vizier, is your purpose- like the viziers of ancient times, you seek to counsel and aid others, which you shall do as the prince, and eventual king, of Landen."

"I already know that," Ayn protested. "Mito, no offense, but-"

"Your father said the same thing, Prince Ayn. I urged him to continue, as I do you. Please, draw another card- let us see what influences you on your journey."

Ayn sighed, then reached for the deck of cards. The third card was a pitch black expanse, nearly featureless save for the flakes of metallic paint that resembled stars. The simple letters on the card's bottom read "The Void."

"Interesting," Mito mused. "This card suggests an autonomously-operating body, separate from the psyche. A veritable prison, if you will."

"I'm influenced by a prison?" Ayn asked.

"Perhaps. The question to be asked of this, though, can't be answered with simple chaossqua cards: Are you the body, or the psyche in the prison? But that is a question for another day- draw a card, so that we may have a hint as to your obstacle."

Ayn drew another card, and immediately wished he hadn't. Staring back at him from the ivory card was a human skull, its death-grimace greatly unnerving Ayn. As he placed the card beside the others, Mito recoiled in terror.

"The Skull!" she shrieked. "This is terrible! This is not mere man or machine behind the monster outbreak, Prince Ayn. No, this card suggests something far worse."

"What could be worse?"

"Legends speak of a dread wraith, bound for all eternity beneath the sea. He uses his hellish influence to spread terror and fear, to possess and control human thought and action. But... those are only legends. Please, Prince, draw another card. Show me your expectations."

Ayn took a fifth card, revealing three robed women working at a spinning wheel. One spun thread from a distaff, a second measured the threads into lengths, and the third stood over the thread with sharpened scissors. "I know this story..." he started as he looked at the card. "Father told me this once, about Clothos, Lachesis, and Atropos..."

"Yes, the Fates. Such as they spin the warp and woof of the universe, you shall make your mark on the things to come," Mito replied. "But be warned: Your father received this card in this position as well. The Fates also represent another generation inheriting the dilemma of a previous one."

"So as I finish my father's fight, I leave one for my own children," Ayn realized. "Isn't that the way of all children?"

"Yes, but as you can see, this is no ordinary fight, as the Skull indicates. Quickly, my prince. Draw to see what must be done to overcome."

The sixth card was an elaborate key, emblazoned across the ivory plaque's face. "A key?" Ayn wondered.

"Most fortunate, then, that the Key is on the table. You shall unlock a mighty door, Prince Ayn, one that shall lead the way to your ultimate conflict." Mito looked at the gathered cards, her brow furrowing in thought, before continuing, "Keeping in theme with the Fates and the Skull, the Key also indicates great power- a magical weapon, so that your progeny may destroy the wraith."

"I see... is that what shall happen?"

"I'm not sure, my prince. Draw two last cards- these shall represent the most likely outcomes of your struggle."

The cards clacked as Ayn drew the top two from the remaining deck. The first one revealed a massive ivory tower, scorched and gutted by lightning, while the other card bore a stylized representation of the sun itself. Mito raised an eyebrow as she looked at the two results.

"In all my years, I've never seen a fortune quite like this one," she said. "The Ruin card represents one such result of your quest- death and destruction at the hands of the wraith, most likely in the event of your failure. As for the Sun, that only means one thing- honor and glory at your eternal victory."

"But which one will come about?" Ayn asked.

"Perhaps one, perhaps the other. Perhaps both, or none," Mito suggested. "Prince Ayn, destiny is not a simple clear-cut black or white choice. Think of it instead as a pool of water, caressed by a gentle breeze. As the breeze touches the water, ripples are formed that disturb the water, influencing everything in the pool."

"For every decision, every choice, a consequence," Ayn realized. "That's good to know."

"My prince, just as I have for your father, I can show you directly what may come about because of your actions and inactions. Come... take my hand."

Ayn reached for the crone's hand, then suddenly found his wrist in a tight vice-like grip. As he struggled, Mito intoned, "Now, look into my eyes, my prince. This is what may come about."

After a few seconds of indecision, he locked eyes with Mito. His vision faded.

He saw Landen, no longer scarred from the monster outbreaks, pristine and glorious.
A young man, about his age, perhaps a bit older, that greatly resembled him.
Two dragons taking the shape of men just before storming a castle.
A beautiful green-haired woman, soaked in blood, her skin pale, as three men stood around her.
Twin women, fair-featured, with lime green hair; one was the picture of peace and serenity, the other bloodlust and cruelty.
A wild-eyed man with lime green hair, holding a twisted boomerang, a similarly-featured woman standing between the man and Ayn.
He could see a robot that resembled a battle-damaged Wren, bearing down upon him and his companions.
A golden-haired goddess, her body radiating a faint blue aura.
The green-haired woman, subtly different, in the embrace of the wild-eyed man.
Sari, her green eyes locked with his own, completely nude from her waist up.
And then, a pair of fire-red eyes, staring at him from the expanse of some hellish void.

A planet with two moons, beautiful emeralds and sapphires scattered amongst diamonds on a black velvet cloth. Contact. FRIENDLY CONTACT.


Mito's grip slacked, and Ayn awkwardly pulled his wrist free. "That is all I can show you, Prince Ayn," she said. "It is up to you to act upon the information I have given you."

"I... Thank you, Mito," Ayn replied. He left a ten-Meseta coin on the table, retrieved his sword, then reunited with his companions. To his relief, Sari and Wren were still in one piece.

"You were in there for half an hour, Ayn," Sari told him. "That must've been one hell of a fortune."

"I... err..." Ayn sweatdropped, trying not to think about the last clear image Mito had imparted to him. "Yeah, it was."

"See? I told you, My Prince! Mito's one of the best!" Mieu replied.

"We'll see about that, Mieu. For now... let's go to Yaata and Ilan. If we ask around there, we might learn something about this monster outbreak."

-=-=-

Hearing the loud ka-KLANG of an iron door slamming shut is a scary experience. More frightening is hearing the sound, then looking up to see a ragged hard cot and a stained bucket. Thea Shusoran had the privilege of experiencing both of these events as the four Droidmen roughly hurled her into a dank cell, somewhere in the bowels of Lensol Castle.

"IT IS HERE YOU SHALL REMAIN UNTIL YOUR FATHER SURRENDERS," one of the Droidmen told her after the clanging died down. "BY THE ORDER OF COMMANDER SIREN, ENJOYING YOUR ACCOMMODATIONS IS MANDATORY."

"MANIPULATION OF TECHNICAL ENERGY IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED," another machine added. "FAILURE TO ABIDE WILL RESULT IN... UNPLEASANTNESS."

"You took my knife away from me," Thea replied. "Of course I'd be expected to defend myself and escape!"

"SUIT YOURSELF. ENGAGE PLASMA COILS."

"ROGER ROGER."

There was a dull hum, and the walls of Thea's cell suddenly shimmered purple for a fraction of a second. Confused, Thea asked, "What... what sorcery is this?"

"THIS IS NO LAYAN SUPERSTITION, BUT THE TRUE SCIENCE OF TECHNOLOGY," another Droidman replied. "PLASMA INDUCTION HAS A DIMINISHING EFFECT ON TECHNICAL ENERGY MANIPULATION."

"THE GENERATOR IS BEYOND YOUR CELL, PRINCESS, SO WE CAN SAY WITH CERTAINTY YOU WILL NOT BE ESCAPING ANY TIME SOON," the final Droidman added.

We'll see about that, Thea thought. She raised a hand, then lowered it, mimicking the action her father used for his Techniques. "Foi!"

As it had dozens of times before, a fireball about the size of Thea's head formed in her right hand, and she launched it at the cell's door. Unlike every other time she had used Foi, there was a loud crackle as the fireball impacted upon the plasma shielding, refracting back at the emerald-haired princess. With a yelp, she dove and rolled under the cot, watching in horror as the Foi blast ricocheted dangerously around the cell. Seconds passed before the fireball finally evaporated, and Thea crawled out from under the bed.

"AND BEFORE YOU GET ANY OTHER BRILLIANT IDEAS, THE DOORS IN THIS DUNGEON ARE ALLOYED WITH LACONIA AND MAHLAY STEEL. YOU WILL BREAK BEFORE THE DOOR WILL." If androids could chuckle, the four Droidmen guarding Thea's cell would have done so menacingly.

"Father will be here to rescue me!" Thea shouted to the machines. "He'll destroy you, and we'll be back in Shusoran before-"

"Before what, young lady?"

The voice was mechanical, like the androids', but different- this one possessed emotion, even if a twisted parody of it. As Thea peered through the small window of her cell, she came face-to-face with a very tall, well-build android. If it had a humanoid face, then it was long-gone; the only hint of a face was the fire-red hair on top of its head. Regarding the princess, the android raised a piece of metal resembling an eyebrow, then continued, "Before what, young lady?"

"You're in command of these machines?" Thea asked. "As Crown Princess of the United Kingdoms of Cille and Shusoran, I order you to release me into the custody of my father, King Lyle Shusoran, immediately!"

"Really? You captured one Layan?" the lead android asked the Droidmen. "And not just any Layan, but the princess of their largest kingdom?"

"INDEED WE HAVE, COMMANDER SIREN."

"My intelligence didn't indicate Cille and Shusoran had united. Oh, this is quite a day- first we capture Lune la Dahlia's sister, and now... a princess!" Siren turned back towards the cell, staring Thea down. "And I suppose your white knight will come, charging to the rescue, shall he not?"

Silently, Thea gulped. Trying not to show any fear, any indication that there was no "white knight" coming anytime soon, she told him, "He shall, Commander Siren. And he is more than a match for the five of you. Riding from Cille upon a magnificent rappy, he-"

"From Cille?" Siren interrupted. "Your glorious leader's monster army recently destroyed the city of Satera- an Orakian city, mind you."

"There are other Orakian cities besides Agoe and Ryshel?" Thea was surprised, and curious; Lyle had never spoken of any other cities besides those in the Aquatica region. "I... I didn't know."

"Yes, yes. Thousands of people in that wonderful city, a veritable land of plenty. At least... until Lune destroyed it. You should thank your LORD Orakio that Lune the Heretic was routed at Ilan and Landen." Siren's eyes narrowed. "For every Orakian city destroyed, the Layans shall have their blood spilled twicefold."

"INCOMING REPORTS, COMMANDER," one of the droidmen said. "STROBE-CLASS FLYERS AND THE PROTOTYPE ORB TANKS REPORTING SUCCESSFUL DEPLOYMENT IN CILLE AND SHUSORAN. HUMAN CASUALTIES IN THE THOUSANDS, ONE STROBE SHOT DOWN. STROBES IN PURSUIT OF SURVIVORS EN ROUTE TO ARIDIA. ORIN LA CILLE IS CONFIRMED DEAD."

"Oh, no... Uncle Orin," Thea muttered, sinking to her knees as she began to cry. He often talked about having a daughter, a cousin of Thea's, and Thea had long wanted to ask him about her. Now, she realized, she would never have that chance.

"Excellent. And news of Lyle Shusoran?"

"LYLE SHUSORAN IS NOT AMONG THE LIVING, COMMANDER."

"Oh, no! Father!" Her eyes opened in shock and terror, anger and fear, Thea stood up and shouted, "Siren, I'll never forgive you for murdering my father!"

"...AND IF YOU WOULD SO KINDLY ALLOW ME TO FINISH TALKING, I WOULD ALSO CONFIRM THAT LYLE SHUSORAN IS NOT AMONG THE DEAD."

Bless you, Laya, Thea thought. At least I still have my father...

"Then he must be on his way to Aridia," Siren realized. "Strobes, report! Have you detected Lyle Shusoran?"

There was a hiss of static before a new voice chimed in, "Ha ha, hee hee! Flying and killing's fun, Commander! Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat! Whee!"

"Strobe!!"

"Huh?! Oh, yeah, that! We've been shooting at Layans and some of 'em wised up and started shooting back with those weird black magics they use," the Strobe continued. "But no Lyle, alive or wrecked! It's like he vanished!"

"Vanished," Siren repeated.

"Yep! It's like- (loud thud, then another) Oh, craps! I'm hit! And I never got to kill any Layans! Say goodbye to my sister units for me! I never saw Technaaaaaaa!"

There was another, final thud, accompanied by static, as the Strobe hit the ground. One of the Droidmen asked, "COMMANDER SIREN, MUST THEY HAVE SUCH PERSONALITY QUIRKS? SOME OF THE STICKLES KEEP COMPLAINING THAT THEY... THE BLINK, FLASH, AND STROBE-CLASS FLIERS ARE A BIT TOO PSYCHOTIC."

"We'll discuss programming and personae later," Siren replied. Glaring at Thea, he ordered, "How did Lyle vanish? Tell me. NOW."

"I... I don't know," Thea replied, her nervousness returning as she backed away from Siren and the cell door. "I don't know any invisibility Techniques..."

"You will tell us, or you will suffer dearly," Siren continued. "Now... Where. Is. YOUR. FATHER?"

"I don't know!"

Siren motioned for two of the Droidmen to accompany him as the door to Thea's cell chugged open. Before Thea could raise her hands to complete a burst of Zan, the tall robot had advanced upon her with frightening speed. He wasted no time grabbing Thea's wrists, then twisting her arms behind her back. Thea cried out in pain as Siren forced her to her knees.

"Show her Orakian courage," Siren ordered the two Droidmen.

Thea gulped again, this time more obviously, her azure gaze fixed on the two red robots. Helpless, squirming in Siren's iron grip, she could only watch as one of the Droidmen punched her in the stomach. Her wheezing and coughing stopped temporarily as the other Droidman's fist met her face, tearing her from Siren's grasp. She uttered an agonized cry as her right shoulder hit the cell's floor.

"We shall return in twelve hours," Siren told Thea, stepping on the small of her back as he and the Droidmen left the cell. "You will talk then, or we will have another... discussion. Droidmen, I leave the castle in your custody. I am returning to Satellite."

"WE AWAIT YOUR RETURN, COMMANDER. HAIL ORAKIO."

Tears and blood trickled down Thea's pretty face as she struggled to her feet, staggering over to the hard cot. Collapsing onto it, she curled into a fetal position, trying to will herself to sleep. Please, Laya, she prayed. Please. Let someone rescue me. Father... somebody. Anybody. Please.

Her eyes closed. As she settled into sleep, Thea heard a man's voice reply, "I will be your savior, m'lady."

Wh-what?! Who are you? she wondered. How did you hear my thoughts?

"I have my ways, my beauty," the voice replied. "You and I shall soon be united. Cry no more, my darling."

-=-=-

They had to fly low. Low, to avoid detection by motion sensors on Siren's robots. Wings flapping as they soared across the rocky steppes of Draconia, a pair of dragons landed on a rocky crag. Their bodies seizing for a moment, they shuddered as the wings disappeared; within seconds, the dragons had become human men. One of them, a man with jet-black hair and mirrored sunglasses, regarded the other man, wondering just how he had managed to lose his left eye.

"There it is, Lyle," the dark-haired man said. "Lensol Castle."

"You're sure this is where they took Thea?" Lyle replied.

"Indeed. Looks can be deceiving, Lyle- it looks like any Orakian castle, and we look like any Orakians- we can just infiltrate from there, and try not to make too much of a scene." The dark-haired man grinned. "We'll have your Thea in Hazatak before dinner tonight."

"Hazatak?" Lyle asked. "Ryan, I've been there once, a long time ago. Why not go back to Shusoran, or Lune's camp on Dahlia?"

"Let's just say Lune and I met once," Ryan replied. "We didn't quite see eye-to-eye on his views of Orakian-Layan relationships. As for Hazatak, the cyborgs there were always neutral in the Devastation War. If I were getting the hell out of Dodge in a hurry, I'd go there. Your subjects had the same idea as they evacuated Shusoran and Cille."

"That only means one thing," Lyle realized. "More of those machines. Have you ever heard of a machine commander named Siren?"

"Siren? .....Hmmm. Can't quite say I have. I suppose we can ask one of the droids we don't kill when we break Thea out. Maybe we can ask them about Alair, too."

"Friend of yours?" Lyle asked, his voice teasing.

"Acquaintance, yes. Lune's sister. The Orakians are holding her hostage in Divisia Castle, over in Elysium."

"I see. Think he'll call the offensive off if we rescue Alair?"

Ryan shook his head. "No. There's still the issue of this so-called Siren. All he wants is Layan heads to roll."

Lyle grumbled, then looked over at Lensol Castle. "Sounds like the old days," he said. "I remember growing up with tales of how the Orakians were such terrors, but... she changed that."

"Friend of yours?" Ryan asked, his voice an exact imitation of Lyle's teasing.

"You could say that, yeah. When I heard about her wedding, I was crushed. I thought about pursuing her after Luna died, but... I didn't want to alienate Thea. That, and she had a daughter of her own-"

"Lyle. Don't dwell on the past. Focus on the now," Ryan urged. "Let's head to town. We can plan our assault from there."

(As Ayn and his companions gather information on the monster outbreak in Landen, Lyle and the dragon knight Ryan formulate a plan to storm Lensol Castle in a daring rescue attempt. Will Thea's rescuer be her father, or her mysterious savior? What, if any, of Ayn's glimpse into destiny will come true?)
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