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PostPosted: Wed May 29, '13, 6:42 am
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(Well. I think this has lain fallow long enough.)

Chapter Eight: Rest

"'About two days' journey,' Alair said. 'It'll be worth it if Ryan joins us,' Mieu said." Sari sighed before turning her attention to Ayn. "All I've seen were a bunch of those weird snails with the flails on their eyestalks and those annoying faeries. Hardly 'worth it.'"

"Oh, you mean the Flayls and the Dryads?" Alair interrupted. "You fought them well, Sari. Just keep an eye out for the Flayl's lightning attack. It can kill a man quickly."

"At least it's not poison. I don't want any more of that... not after last week." The blue-haired prince shuddered, remembering the Dreidon that had almost killed him. "Any word from Mieu yet?"

"No, not yet, Ayn. We only sent her to scout ahead about an hour ago." Sari looked to the west, watching the sun hovering dangerously low to the Elysian horizon. "Hope she gets back soon..."

"I'm sure she will, Sari. She seems pretty good about that-"

Before Alair could finish her praise, Mieu returned to the group, smiling. "My Prince! Princesses! You'll never believe what I found!" she said, her voice cheerful.

"You found Ryan's cave?" Alair asked.

"Lune?"

"Even better than those! Come on!" Mieu was grinning as she waved everyone behind her. "It's something we really need!"

Ayn returned her grin as he strode past her. "Sounds promising, but you're gonna have to narrow this down a bit, Mieu," he joked. "Let's take a look-"

"I promise, it's totally worth it! Hand on heart, My Prince!"

Sari pushed ahead of Ayn, climbing a gently rising hillock, before stopping at the top. "Oh, wow! Ayn! You have to take a look at this!" she called. "This is incredible!"

"What? What is it?" Ayn asked, giving Alair a glance. The prince wondered just why Alair was being so quiet- surely she had to know about what was near the cave she claimed she visited often. It's not a trap, though... Sari and Mieu wouldn't be so enthusiastic about this if it were. Not enough around to make a cave, either...

"What's wrong, Ayn?" Alair wondered. Seeing the look on his face, she assured, "It's wonderful, I assure you."

"Then why don't you say something?"

"It's..." Alair blushed, the slight reddening of her cheeks a wondrous contrast to her lime-green hair. "Ryan and I used to call it our little secret."

"Not much of a secret anymore," Ayn said, taking Sari's place on the hillock- the brunette had already moved on. Once he crested the hillock, he paused, his eyes wandering the sight before him.

The sky was just starting to turn pink, the sun barely touching the horizon over the large lake before Ayn. He marveled at the sight of the lake bed beneath the crystal-clear water, watching coral formations twisting beneath the surface among iridescent conch and nautilus shells. Reflections of the distant hills and mountains danced across the water, the pinkening sky already breaching the otherwise blue reflection. Ayn approached the water, pulling off a boot at the water's edge, then slowly dipped a toe in.

"There's nothing to worry about, Ayn. It's just water," Alair told him. Her boots had already been cast aside as she started to wade in.

"I know, but... it's perfect. Landen doesn't have anything like this," he replied. Once he was sure nothing was going to lash out from a shell or from beneath the sands, the prince shed his boots, then his armor, setting it aside next to Sari's discarded armor. Ayn raised an eyebrow as he looked at the collection of clothing-- he expected Sari to ditch her chestplate and boots so she could swim, but she had left behind her daggers and head guard. Even her clothing was left behind-- not just her tunic and trousers, but also her underwear.

"Wait... Sari took all her clothes off? You mean she's swimming-"

"Naked? Of course she is, My Prince! You can't swim in your clothes, you know!" Mieu giggled, her head peeking out from the water.

"Aren't you still in your leotard, Mieu?" Alair asked, shrugging her jacket off beside the rest of the gathered clothes.

"It's neoprene. I'll be fine, Lady Alair. Besides, I'm the lifeguard!"

Ayn sweatdropped, but shed his clothes, leaving himself in just his underwear-- those, he told himself, he wouldn't be so keen to get rid of. Then he jumped in, letting the water wash around him. Careful to avoid the coral growths, Ayn swam beneath the water's surface for as long as his breath would allow, then surfaced. The early summer air felt good on his wet skin, and he gave a pleasant sigh. This must be what Paradise is like, he thought. All that's missing is a good bottle of wine, and a beaut...

Ayn's thought process came to a halt when he finally saw Sari swimming. His eyes wandered every curve, every muscle, every movement Sari made as she tore across the water's surface. The brunette princess had a subtle athletic grace as she swam, one of the many traits Ayn admired about his lifelong friend.

Alair noticed, as well. "You desire her, don't you, Ayn?" she asked.

"Wh-what?" Ayn looked over to Alair, noting that the Layan princess had a similar build to Sari's. She probably even trained like Sari did, he guessed. Light weapons, like knives...

"You're admiring what you see, then?" Alair teased, striking a provocative pose. The water lapped around her thighs as she continued, "Or are you just playing compare-and-contrast?"

"Well... I'm just looking at Sari, that's all."

"I know that look, Ayn. Ryan and I traded that look a great many times."

Ayn sighed, taking a glance at Sari as she swam around Mieu. "Look, I.... it's complicated," he finally managed. He closed his eyes as he continued, "I mean, she and I kissed twice, but-"

"But what?"

"She was teasing me in a tavern in Divisia. It's... I don't know what to say about it, really."

"Sounds to me like Sari would like more than just those two kisses." Alair giggled, then kicked Ayn in the bottom. With a yelp, he landed in the water face-first.

"Whoa! My Prince, are you all right?!" Mieu called, swimming over to him.

"He's fine, Mieu. Just trying to get his butt into the water."

-=-=-

If Lyle had an army, he would have been grateful for its presence-- soldiers would have been able to fend off the myriad robots he had to fight since he and Ryan parted ways. Medics would have been able to heal his wounds. Scouts could have advanced ahead, foraged for sweet berries to act as a replacement for Monomate, while wizards could staunch wounds or devastate foes with their Techniques. He had none of those luxuries, and the injuries he had from the last two days were beginning to take their cumulative toll on him.

If I knew where Siren's base was, I'd be happy... he thought, limping along the Draconian coast. One of the locals in Lensol had called it the Dragon's Spine- he had wondered why until the innkeeper showed him a map of Draconia. The coast, according to the map, greatly resembled the spine and arched wings of a massive dragon. Almost like me, he decided later.

Lyle didn't have much time to ponder the coincidental resemblance between his dragon form and the Spine; he needed to get to Techna. They have engineers there... engineers, I can hire soldiers, I can see a doctor... this rib is killing me.

Or was it his stomach? He wasn't sure; the injuries started to blur together into one big ball of pain after the past two days. It was getting harder to think; harder to use Techniques; harder to fight; harder to live. Lyle was sure that the only thing keeping him alive was the hope that he would see Thea again.

The emerald-green curls, her calm blue eyes, her sweet smile-- everything about Thea reminded him of her mother, Luna. The mental image of Thea, elegant and graceful, replaced itself in Lyle's mind by the image of her in her cell in Lensol Castle: Her dirtied robe, filthy from three days of imprisonment; her pained shriek, bruises popping out all over her body as his hastily-aimed Gra Technique almost killed her; Lune scooping her nearly-dead form into his arms, after unleashing Technique after Technique on him. The barely-concealed scorn in Lune's eyes still stuck with Lyle, even weeks later.

All I want... I just need to see you again, Thea. I'm fighting for you.

Lyle's elbow thrust forward, catching the rocky soil of the coast; he used the leverage to drag himself down the coastline. He lost track of just how many miles had gone by since his knees gave out and he was forced to drag himself. Even if I have to, for my daughter, I'll pull myself by my fingers. An inch at a time. That's what fathers do.

His arms were trembling, his lungs heaving, with each foot he dragged himself. Lyle was in agony as he willed himself on, ever-onward towards the southern point of the Dragon's Spine. The last thing he was expecting was to suddenly find a woman's boot in front of him, much less the armor-plated, high-heeled boot that was suddenly inches from his face. It was all he could do to look up, following the leg with his eye as he met its owner's gaze-

"Th... Thea?"

There was only a simple chuckle from above him before Lyle was unceremoniously dragged to his feet, green-painted fingernails digging into his skin. The green-haired king suddenly found himself face-to-face with his daughter, who was replying to his confused gaze with a malevolent smirk. "Hello, Daddy," she cooed. "It's been a while."

"Thea... you escaped from Lune?"

"Escaped? What do you expect?" Thea glared at her father, her grip tightening for a second. "You almost killed me. I didn't see you and your hired thug getting me out of Lensol Castle- that was all Lune."

"That bastard beat us there, Thea. And he used you as a shield-"

"You lie. You deliberately tried to kill me, Father. You didn't want Lune to get away with rescuing me, so you tried to kill me. Is that it?" Thea demanded. Her purple-painted lips formed an unpleasant scowl as she interrogated Lyle.

"What? No! I... Thea, what has Lune done to you? You're not acting like yourself."

"But I am. Lune... my dear, sweet, beloved Lune... he showed me what the Orakians intend to do. They intend to kill us."

"Thea, I know some Orakians. They're good people," Lyle protested. "King Rhys of Landen-"

"Ah, yes. King Rhys. I've heard about him. He stole a Layan princess, took her back to his lands, and proceeded to ruin her." Every word seemed to be poison as Thea spat them out. "They have a child? One she was forced to bear?"

"I... I would imagine so. It's been a long while since I saw Rhys and Maia."

"Hmph. Father... stupid, stupid father of mine. You always did think we could coexist. You were such a damned... optimistic..." The green-haired woman released her grip on Lyle, sending him faceplanting to the sandy soil as she spoke the word, "Fool."

"Wh... Thea. Please. Help me."

"With what? Returning to my boring life back in Shusoran? Holding me back, grooming me just like my mother did, so that one day I would be married off to some prince? An Orakian prince? Was that what you wanted, Father?" There was an uneasy tension as Thea shouted, "You would have me lie on my back as that prince violated me, claiming it to be our wedding night! Wouldn't you?!"

"Th-"

"Wouldn't you?!"

"Your mother and I just... wanted you to be loved, Thea. That's all..."

Lyle found himself on his back, the sky taking up his vision as Thea slammed her foot into his face. He could hear her walking up to him as she spoke. "So you admit it. You wanted to use me to help reunite Orakians and Layans. Well... Orakians will be reunited with Layans, Father. Lune and I will see to that personally." She knelt down, deliberately exposing her cleavage to him as she continued, "Lune, my beloved, showed me how we will have our peoples reunite. We will rule over the Orakians. Their fabrication plants and manufactories will be destroyed, and every last one of them will be hunted down and executed."

Lyle could only wheeze in terror, saddened by the words his daughter was saying. "Thea, this isn't how we raised you... you were a sweet woman-"

"I grew up. Apparently I caught his eye... he made me his queen. And I gave myself to him. Repeatedly." She chuckled. "It is a shame, Father. You will not live to see your friend and his race-traitor wife, hanged by the neck until they are dead. You'll never see their lands glowing like a torch, like Lune did to Satera. You'll die knowing you almost murdered your only child in a fit of rage, Father..."

"Not... true..."

"And do you know what I think the best pain is, Father?" Thea stood up, looking down upon her father. Blood was pouring from his forehead and nose. "You'll die without ever seeing your grandchild."

"Grand-?"

"That's right, Father. Lune's baby. The first of, I hope, many. After all, the world's so big, all our children will want kingdoms of their own... and with you dying, that would mean the new queen of Shusoran would be..." Thea laughed mockingly, grandiosely pointing at her chest as she finished, "Why, me!"

Lyle tried to say something, but blood was filling his mouth. His vision started to fade as he heard Thea walking away. "Farewell, Father," she said. "I'd like to say it was a pleasure, but... no. No it wasn't. If you'll excuse me, I have a kingdom to rule."

His vision blurred. The rocky beach faded away around Lyle, and he found himself floating, disoriented. The waves crashing around him started to echo uncontrollably, the sand was digging into his skin.

-=-=-

The soft feeling of satin at his back was the first thing to return, coupled with flesh around him. Lyle had a strange sense of deja vu- the smell of roses, familiar breathing, the taste at his lips. He opened his eyes, then took in a sharp breath, both at the sight before him, and the fact that he could once again see from his damaged eye: He was in his bedchambers back in Shusoran Castle, except less-decorated. As it looked twenty years ago. Wait... twenty years? It can't be.

The something at his lips pulled away, and Lyle saw another familiar, more welcome, sight: A woman with short green hair and green eyes like emeralds. Judging by what he could tell with a quick glance, the only thing the woman was wearing was shiny crimson lipstick.

"Hello, honey," she whispered, smiling sweetly. "It's been a while."

"Luna? No. No, it can't be you. You're dead."

"I know. Seven years, was it? Thea was so sad..."

"Wait. Luna, if you're here, then that must mean-"

Luna nodded. "Welcome to Paradise, my love. Do you remember this?"

All Lyle could do was gaze at the vision of absolute beauty before him. "You look so young. Like the night we got-"

"Married. That's right," Luna replied. She kissed Lyle's lips and bare chest (When did I take my robe off? he wondered for a second), leaving perfect imprints of her lipstick behind. "That was a wonderful day altogether, Lyle."

Lyle chuckled- he knew that he and Luna both had different reasons for enjoying that particular day. "Honey, I'm... I'm happy to see you again, and I'm happy that we're apparently going to be spending eternity together, but right now we have a serious problem."

"Oh, no. It can't be. Our daughter's infertile," Luna said, crestfallen.

"No, Thea's pregnant."

"So that's good! Except we look way too young to be grandparents, my love."

"Luna, I'm really happy that you look like you're nineteen again, but we have to stay focused. The problem is just who she says she married. Lune la Dahlia."

"Laya's general? I thought he died in the Final War!"

"Nope. Apparently Orakio had him deep-sixed on Dahlia for a thousand years. And now he's kidnapped Thea and brainwashed her."

Running a hand through her hair, Luna sighed. "Dark Force," she finally said, sitting up on the bed. "Dark Force did this to our daughter, Lune."

"It can't be. I heard tales when I was in Landen- Orakio's sword is holding him at bay."

"The fabric between our world and Dark Force's is getting thin, Lyle," Luna said. "Sweetness, I've been gone for seven years. You get to learn a few things when you die."

"Like what?"

"Like you get to relive your happiest moments over and over again-"

"Besides the honeymoon, Luna!"

"Also, that our world's not what we thought it was. Lyle..." Luna gently lifted Lyle to a seated position, then embraced him. "I want to sing to you, Lyle, my beloved. I want to sing about the Alisa III. About the travelers from another world, borne onto the stars for a millennium. About the heroes who saved us twice before. About the heroes who will save us thrice more."

With a deep breath, Luna began to sing to her husband.

And upon the rocky shores of the Dragon's Spine, a one-eyed man breathed his last, a smile on his face despite the blood covering him.

-=-=-

"General Espoir, how many more men do we have?"

Espoir sighed. "Three hundred men, Lord Rhys. Most of the others were killed by those star-looking *&%$s, some were killed by those cat women," she said. "I think a few fled while we were resting. I don't blame them."

"Nor do I," Rhys replied. "I only hope Landen's safe."

"It is, my lord." Espoir smiled. "Lady Maia will keep Landen safe, just as you are. I assure you."

Rhys nodded, looking towards the remaining soldiers. They remained apprehensive and anxious, swords and bolt guns drawn despite spending the last two days in Blue Lake Woods. "Do you think we'll survive? Don't talk to me as a soldier- tell me as a friend."

"Without another order of knights, then? We're screwed if we have to fight another wave like the one we fought days ago." Espoir shuddered in her armor, remembering the blasts of lightning that incinerated some of her fellow soldiers. "My Lord, good men and women died because of those monsters. Are the Layans invading us?"

After some thought, Rhys replied, "No. Not the Layans I know, Espoir. Something's very wrong with this picture. Layan lands are to the east of us, correct?"

"Cille and Shusoran, yes. I've heard there were more."

"And Orakian lands are to the west and south. But Satera was razed."

"So how can an army of biomonsters come from Orakian lands? I know we use robots," Espoir said. "Unless... oh. I see what you're getting at."

"Either Layans are sending their monsters on a very roundabout journey to deceive us, or there's another faction in play. One from the west with access to monsters."

"That would make sense... hopefully the prince will be able to find something out."

"He will, General. I know it." Rhys smiled. "Sari, too."

"Sir? I know there were some refugees from the attack on Satera... what are we supposed to do?"

"The humane thing. We take them in, we feed them, shelter and protect them, and when sanity and cooler heads prevail, we help rebuild their kingdom. If the memories are too strong, then they're more than welcome to stay in Landen." Rhys smiled- he knew deep down that had Satera been attacked twenty years ago, his first instinct would have been to grab a sword and start fighting Layan-engineered monsters until he laid dead.

"That's a welcome thought, Sire." There was hesitation before Espoir continued, "Sire, a question. If you survive to return to Landen and I do not, can you pass a message along?"

"Personally, General."

"I have a sister in Yaata, a few years younger than me. Her name's Marina. She lives in the third house from Yaata's dock. If I die, tell her... tell her Martina loves her."

"I will." Rhys then paused. "You have a first name?"

"Yes, my first name is Martina! You sound surprised."

"My advisers kept referring to you by rank. I honestly thought your first name was General," the king teased. It was a welcome moment of levity, something to break the hell of the last two days, and Espoir started laughing, followed by Rhys.

"Sire, you are too much," she added, in between laughs.

"I think we needed this," Rhys told her. "All of us- everyone! Partner up!"

"Oh, God, King Rhys! We might have Layans on our tail- hardly the time to practice war games!" one soldier protested.

"Partner up! This is different- tell each other the best tale or joke you know or heard!" Rhys ordered. "And get another partner and tell another story!"

"Sire, is this a good idea?" Espoir wondered. "I mean, I know it's a good try to get our morale back up, but... should we be letting our guard down like this?"

"If those monsters wanted us dead, they would have followed us into the woods," Rhys whispered back. "I think they're going straight to Landen, thinking it's defenseless."

"Your plan?"

"We jest, we tell a few jokes, then we ride in pursuit. We'll pincer those monsters with help from the soldiers at the castle. So, Martina, find someone and tell them about something embarrassing your sister did."

-=-=-

Ayn set his armor aside, along with his equipment and clothes, creeping up to the serene lake. He had thought it looked beautiful by day, but it was even more breathtaking at night. The combined light of Dahlia and Azura above made the view even better, highlighting some phosphorescent coral as the moons' reflections rippled across the surface. With less caution than he had earlier in the day, Ayn waded into the water, trying not to wake his companions. He knew Mieu and Alair were sound asleep, and Wren was awake, remaining on guard as he always did at night, but as for Sari, all that he could see were her clothes and gear, set aside as it was hours ago.

It looks like Sari had the same idea... Ayn thought, swimming out into the lake. He could see the water rippling ahead of him, broken by a roughly human shape. The rippling and movement stopped as Ayn approached.

Sari stood with her side facing Ayn, her skin glistening in the indigo-hued moonlight, completely naked. Ayn could see every generous curve, every minute scar, every toned muscle in her arms and torso. It was like looking at a living statue.

As Ayn approached her, Sari could hear the subtle slosh of water accompanying his motion. She turned to face the prince, giving him a seductive smile. Even her eyes seemed to sparkle with supernatural beauty, Ayn decided.

"Here for a swim?" Sari asked him.

"I, uh- yeah! Swim!" Immediately, Ayn groaned mentally, marveling at the incredibly dumb words that escaped his mouth. He tried to save himself with "Yeah- I figured I'd go for a swim and see what the lake looked like at night."

"You too, huh?" Sari took a step towards him, her feet brushing the lake bed. "I liked it better at sunset."

"I don't know. I kinda like it better at night. It's more..." Don't say it. Don't you dare say what you're going to say.

"It's more what? Pleasant? Calming? Relaxing?" Sari asked him. "I did a couple laps around the lake- all that's here are fish and us. So if you're up for a swim-"

"Sari, I am, but..." Ayn paused. "I woke up because I was having trouble sleeping. I saw your clothes, and thought I'd join you."

"Trouble..." Sari frowned at this. "You too?"

"I doubt for the same reasons."

Sari nodded. "Nightmares. Ever since Satera fell," she said. "My mother sending me off, running past burning buildings, fighting monsters... knowing that almost everyone I knew died a month ago."

"Sari..."

Tears started to stream down her face as Sari continued, "And for what? Some war, Ayn! Some war that started before we were even born! Between Lune and Siren and Orakio and Laya, and my family &*^@ing died because of them! I try to stay strong, you know? I try to hold back the pain and the tears and the anger, but... I can only do it for so long!"

Unconsciously, Ayn's arms opened, and he took a step towards Sari. It was all she needed- she launched herself at Ayn, throwing her arms around him, burying her head into his shoulder. The tears came freely, and all Ayn could do was embrace Sari, letting her cry.

"It's not fair," she finally said, minutes later. "It's not fair."

"I know. It isn't, Sari. That's why I want answers from Lune."

He could feel Sari's hands balling into fists at his back. Ayn gently stroked Sari's back, tucking his hands beneath waves of brown hair. "Sari, let it all out. Go ahead," he whispered. Her whole body shuddered in his arms, and then Sari disappeared under the water.

"Sari?!" Ayn asked, concerned. "I thought you said there were no-"

The water bubbled before Ayn. Sari was still safe, thankfully, and from the look of it, she was screaming incoherently and inaudibly underwater. She surfaced for breath, repeating the cycle of underwater screaming and surfacing twice, before finally returning her arms around Ayn.

"I feel a little better now," she said. "I mean, I'm still upset. I think I'm always going to be, but... I think I can manage for now." Her arms started to move away from Ayn, but she could feel the prince still embracing her. "...You're not letting go," she told him.

"I know."

"You should. The water's a little cold."

"I don't want to let go, Sari."

"Why not?" The bravado and tomboyishness that was in Sari's voice was gone. Here, Ayn could hear Sari, curious and just this once, feminine.

"Sari, right now I'm holding on to my best friend. I want to be there for her. I want to hold her close when she needs it and tell her, 'Things will be all right someday.' I know they won't truly ever be, but damn it, at least I can do this for her." He held her just a little tighter as he continued, "I know she's going to resist later, but Sari, when the dust settles, I still want to be there for my best friend. I want to make sure my best friend has someone to take care of her and be there for her if she ever needs it. I want to just know that she's all right, and somebody's going to be there for her if things aren't all right. I want her to have loved ones! I want my best friend to be surrounded by people who love her, no matter what! Sari... you're my best friend. You'll always be my best friend. But... I want to be someone."

Sari was shocked. Her heart skipped a beat as she asked, "You're sure, Ayn? There's other people who deserve to hear this."

"No. No there aren't. Sari..." Ayn sighed. Sari could feel the warm breath on her bare shoulder. "I'm holding a beautiful moon goddess in my arms. I don't want to let her go. I don't want this to end. Because if I let go of you, Sari, I don't know if you'll ever find peace in life. Please. Let me hold on to you. Just one minute longer-"

Ayn's next words were muffled as Sari brought her lips to his, cupping her hands around the back of his head. She could feel Ayn pulling her closer, and she smiled as she broke the kiss. "Thanks, Ayn," she whispered. "...You're still not letting go."

"I still don't want to."

"I don't want you to."

This time, Ayn kissed Sari. His tongue tested her lips for an instant before he pulled away from her. Sari would not let that happen, and she returned the kiss, stepping backwards towards the shore. Ayn replied by stepping to meet Sari, kissing her lips, running his hands up and down her back. Each time Sari broke off the kiss, she stepped towards the shore, and Ayn followed her, his lips meeting hers each time. Once they reached the lake's shore, Sari passionately kissed Ayn, her hand stroking his chest. She could feel Ayn's knees and hips buckle as they fell to the ground. A blush crept across her cheeks as she realized they were still intertwined, a blush even Ayn could see.

The two looked into each others' eyes for a few moments, before Sari nodded.

(How will Lyle be able to save Thea from beyond the grave? Will Landen fall to the might of Lune's army of monsters? Will Ayn and Sari survive to end the war that started a millennium ago?)
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