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In The Name Of The Mother

Part Twenty-One


East of Landen-Aquatica Throughway, Aquatica Habitat, Planet Motavia

The last of the Landen army, if it could honestly be called that, emerged blinking into the sunshine.  Bran surveyed his troops with a little dismay.  He had split his forces about evenly between the defense of Landen and the assault on the Layan-held Rysel, but while he had originally envisioned leaving the people at home and taking the robots with him, that had proven impractical.  The defenders were less than enthused about losing their invincible allies, and many of the more fervent Orakians had been adamant about coming along to Rysel.  The treacherous attacks on Landen had helped to solidify the hatred of Layans in many people's minds, and liberating Rysel was looked on as a noble battle.

Bran knew it would be anything but.  No one else had any real idea what the day would bring, except maybe Cille.  But Bran had battled the Layan hordes before, and he knew it would be far from a "noble battle."  It would be very ugly, and probably very short.  He could only hope that it would end in victory for the Orakians.

He missed Thor's expertise.  The hunter would have been invaluable in battle.  But he had tried to plan things as well as he could without the benefit of his years of experience or the near omniscience of Orakio.  He had been a little nervous about taking the army through the tunnel.  It struck him as the perfect place for an ambush.  But then he remembered that there was far more to the tunnels than he had previously thought.  Any enemy as intelligent as the Layans seemed to be would steer clear of an unknown factor that operated on the Orakian side.  Bran had looked down as they went through it, hoping to catch a glimpse of distant Wrens at work, or some the enigmatic machines he had seen in Orakio's secret command base, Nurvus.  Nothing, though.

With the appearance of the stragglers the army sorted itself back into ranks - Mieus at the front, followed by the Landen soldiers, and Wrens in the back.  "At least we'll look good," Cille said.

The lake glittered on the horizon, to the east.  Rysel was south, but the army had a choice of going through a forest or across the open plains.  Cille had advocated slipping through the forest so the city's defenders wouldn't be able to see the Landen approach, but Bran had decided for the plains, and had overruled her with Kara's support.  Landen people were familiar with plains.  That was their habitat.  And the trees could conceal all kinds of Layan monsters as well as Orakian robots.

They started south.  Everyone had their weapons ready, prepared for the worst.  The trouble was that they were prepared for it to come from Rysel.  They were utterly unprepared for it to come from the west, from a brand new structure that had all the appearances of a temple.

A wave of Layan troops erupted from the temple and smashed into the Orakians' flanks, breaking the formation.  And worst of all, it hit the middle.  The Landen people themselves.  Exactly the ones Bran couldn't afford to lose.  Chaos broke loose as the living Orakians panicked and scattered, interfering with the robots' attempts to strike back.  Bran motioned Cille off to the side.  "Rally them!" he shouted over the sudden din of combat.  "Get them fighting again!"  He charged into the fray, sword drawn.

Cille intercepted the frightened Orakians, shouting at them to fight for Lord Orakio.  It was the magic word.  The people seemed to remember that they were here for battle.  But the damage had already been done.  The Layans were close combat fighters.  Had the Wrens been able to get in position, they could have decimated their ranks, allowing the Mieus to mix it up with the tougher ones and the survivors.  But now the balance had shifted to the Layan side.  Hordes of smaller monsters, all viciousness, could bring down the sturdy robots.  They died by the scores, but more threw themselves on top of them.  The Wrens were nearly useless against such measures and the lightweight Mieus were overwhelmed by them.  The bigger, more durable monsters cut swaths through the living, their swords unable to do sufficient damage.  The power of the Orakians was in their tactics, and they had been nullified by a surprise attack.

Bran knew he had to do something to help rally the Orakians.  Suddenly, he remembered his sword.  The metal is most symbolic to your people.  And a gift from Orakio himself.  He lifted it high.  It was covered in the blood, or what passed for blood among Bio-hazards, of the Layan monsters, but the bluish silver of the laconia couldn't be disguised so easily.  "For Orakio!" he shouted.  "Death to the Layans!"

Unbelievably, despite the noise of the monsters howling and slavering and smashing the robots, some of the people heard him.  Enough heard them that they took up the cry, and attacked with a renewed vigor.  If they can just take the pressure off, Bran thought.  Just long enough for the Mieus to get back into it.  The Orakians struck, and Bran caught sight of Cille leading the counter-charge.

He whirled around to find a huge biologic standing over him.  This one looked almost manlike, if any man had ever been that tall and been colored blue with red stripes.  It moaned in an eerie voice no Palm throat could hope to mimic and lifted a huge fist to smash him.  He lifted his sword to block the blow and staggered back from the impact.  The sword held, though, and Bran darted in as the giant struggled to recover.  He slashed at its shins and it dropped to one knee and reached out for him.  Bran had its reach down now and skipped back out of its way, raining blows on its wrist.  It drew back and Bran cut it diagonally across its massive chest.  The titan crashed backwards.

Cille came to his side with a handful of warriors, cheering their leader's victory of one of the mightiest enemies.  Bran motioned them back but then he saw there was no need.  The attack had repaid the Layans' favor and sent them reeling, allowing the Mieus to come to the aid of the beleaguered Wrens.  With the pressure on the robots relieved they were able to launch their far more effective counterattack.  Cille, realizing success was imminent, had ordered a short retreat, then taken a few men and plunged through to rescue those fighters who had been cut off.

The battle was almost over.  Somehow, though, Bran knew it wasn't over.  And, of course, it wasn't.  At least, Bran thought, we didn't take the forest.  Layan soldiers, Palm ones, were boiling out of the woods.  And, although it was difficult to see clearly against the green background, the blue bolts betrayed the presence of Alair, and Bran knew with a sinking heart that Lune was with his sister, to see personally to the destruction of the Orakian army.

Although the western group was down to a scant few, the reinforcements from the north were fresh and fought with the ferocity of fanatics.  The Layans were everywhere, knives and swords flashing.  Bran could only stare helplessly as the robots continued to hunt down the monsters while mayhem continued all around them.

Cille grabbed him and shouted.  "We've got to pull back!  We can't fight them here!"

Bran shook his head.  "Right!  If they're all here, then the city's probably deserted.  Take the people towards Rysel!"

"What about you?"

"I'll get the robots to hold the Layans off while you retreat!"

Cille and Bran ducked as a large bird lunged at them only to end up spitted on Mieun's claws.  Having a red shadow was convenient sometimes, Bran thought.  Mieun followed up her strike with windmilling slashes, slicing the monster into pieces.

"Go!" Bran said.  "Get to safety!"

Cille turned, motioning to her escorts to head back.

"Mieun!'  Bran said.  "Tell them to fight the Palm people instead of the monsters.  We need to stop them from pursuing our army."

"I cannot leave you," Mieun said.  "My orders..."

Bran grimaced.  "Then let's go to them!"

Bran and Mieun fought side by side against roaring beasts and crazed people.  bran's arm grew tired after hewing through tough hide, and the light from his sword grew dim.  But Mieun fought with unfaltering android strength.  Bran thought for certain her claws would snap off against scales or when caught on sword blades, but they too were laconia, and proof against virtually any weapon.  They reached a Wren and Mieun ordered it to regroup and fight the Palm foe.  The message leapt from Wren to Wren and then to the Mieus.  But by the time they had gotten reorganized Lune's forces had done severe damage.  Once again the Orakians had been unprepared for the attack.

And Bran heard it.  The sound of it cut through the noise around him as it cut through steel and flesh.  Lune's slasher.  The man himself.  Lune must have seen him at some point and decided to eliminate the army's commander before any other maneuvers could be executed.

But before he could deal with Lune, he had another problem.  Alair.  The green-haired woman rose up in front of him, gun in hand.  She stared evenly at him.  Bran wondered if she even recognized him as the king of Landen.  But whatever she thought of him, she recognized him as an Orakian.  Blue light sizzled through the air as he threw himself to the side.  Mieun leaped over him and landen in front of Alair, slashing downwards at her arm.

Bran winced, expecting to see Alair short an appendage, but he had again forgotten that Alair was in her own way as an expert a warrior as Mieun, if not more so.  Alair jumped back and then slammed the butt of her gun into Mieun's face.  The android staggered back and Alair snapped her weapon back down to fire directly at her.  Bran rose up and crashed into Mieun's knees, knocking her away.

Mieun sprang up and threw herself at Alair again, claws stretching out for her face.  Alair shot her once, twice, but it didn't stop her charge and Alair dove off to her right, rolling and firing.  Mieun landed on her toes, smoking holes burned through her tunic and revealing singed flesh underneath.  The wounds would have brought Thor to his knees, but Mieun felt no pain and instead raised her leg to stamp at Alair with her crimson boots.

Alair rolled away and jumped up.  She brought her weapon up but discovered Bran in front of her.  She hesitated for a split second in surprise.  Bran didn't hesitate.  He pushed her arms down with his left hand, bringing his right hand back, and struck her across the side of her head with the hilt of his sword.

She wilted and collapsed.  Bran shook his head, wondering how he'd pulled that off when he felt strong hands around his ankles and suddenly realized he hadn't.  Alair jerked her hands back and Bran fell down.  From a sheath at her waist Alair drew a long dagger and plunged it down at him. It caught between Mieun's claws.  The red-haired android twisted her hand, pulling the dagger out of Alair's grasp, then stabbed at Alair's face, but the construct, seeing the weapon lost, threw her head back and flipped backwards, away from the attack.

Bran gaped at her display of agility, but apparently hadn't seen anything yet.  Without missing a beat Alair landed upright and immediately launched a flying kick at Mieun.  The robot raised her claws to defend herself and grazed Alair's leg, but the kick connected and knocked her backwards.  Alair picked herself up and scooped her gun off the ground.

Bran realized the fight was almost perfectly even.  Even as Mieun slid across the ground to dodge Alair's roundhouse kick, he knew he had to choose.  Come to Mieun's assistance, or let them fight it out and get back to Cille.  No, wait a minute.  Mieun was only fighting Alair because the Dezo woman had attacked him.  She was his bodyguard.  All he had to do was get away from the fight and Mieun would follow him.  Of course, he might lose a pretty good chance at taking out one half of the enemy command.

Alair had grabbed Mieun's right arm and was attempting to blast her point-blank, but the android's muscle power was clearly superior to the construct's, and she twisted arm free, cutting upwards with her other hand.  Alair slammed her own arm into the crook of Mieun's, jolting her stab off line.  Forget this, Bran thought.  He scrambled to his feet and plunged into the melee.   Mieun drove her knee into Alair's face, then turned and ducked away after him.

The green-haired woman started to chase them, then looked around her.  The battle had turned yet again.  Lune was directing his troops back and around to avoid the heavy fire from the Wrens' shots.  Alair ran back to join him.

Bran and Mieun burst out into the clear, heading east toward the city of Rysel.  He could only pray that Cille and the army had made it to the city, and that his hunch had been correct.  If the Layans had enough troops to have garrisoned Rysel, it would all be over.  Cille would have been running right into the trap, and the army would be ground up between three divisions.

But there didn't appear to be any fighting in the city.  As the two approached the gates at a dead run, he saw Cille standing with bared sword, waiting for her husband.  There was murder in her eyes as Bran pulled to a halt by her, gasping for breath.  "No defenses?" he asked, chest heaving.

"Bran," she said urgently.  "Something is horribly wrong.  There's no defenses.  There never were any."

"What?"  His head was pounding, he couldn't think straight.  What did she mean?

"There never was a Layan invasion.  They were never here.  I don't know where Lune brought those troops from, but it wasn't from Rysel.  This is the first they've ever heard of either side.  They closed us out when they saw us approaching.  They were scared stiff of us.  We persuaded them to let us in, but I don't understand what's going on."

Bran groaned.  "I do.  It was some kind of set up.  We've been suckered again.  And Lune gave me all kinds of hints."

Cille shook her head.  "I don't know anything about that, but I'll tell you this.  They're holding us responsible for this attack.  They let us in because we were injured but they want us to leave.  We've brought the war into their homes."

"This is all wrong.  We came here to liberate them."

Cille shrugged.  "Sorry.  They didn't need it."

"And now we're the bad guys.  Just great."

"If it makes you feel any better, they're not exactly welcoming the Layans with open arms either."

He looked up.  "Will they support us?"

"No."

"Then we've got to do it ourselves.  As always."

From the gate they could see the advancing Layan troops.  The robots must have been destroyed, Bran thought.  It was down to the few who had made it to Rysel.  And there would be no help from the Rysellians.  The war was coming to a close.

But as the Layans drew near, Bran saw it wasn't the ordered advance he had originally thought it was.  The varied shapes of the monsters had made it difficult to tell.  But now they were visible, and it was obvious that they had been routed.  But fleeing to the east?

"Into the houses!" Bran commanded.  The Landen people and the Rysellians broke up and fled into the houses, securing the doors behind them.  The Layans stampeded into the town.  Cille ran to a window, and laughed out loud.

"We're saved!"

Behind the Layans thundered a new force of robots and Palm people, harrying the fleeing monsters.  And at the head of the ranks was Kara.  As she swept by the house where Bran and CIlle had taken shelter, Bran left Cille's side and went to meet her.

"Kara!"

"Bran!" she called, a smile lighting up her face.  "You're safe!"

"Don't get me wrong.  I'm glad you're here.  But what about Landen?"

"Good news.  Your excitable friend is back."

"Thor!"

Kara nodded, grinning.  "And he brought a pack of his fellow hunters with him.  He managed to convince Techna to become Orakians.  His excuse for being so late is that the discussion got a little heated.  And you know, he's picked up some new scars.  Anyway, I left them in charge of the place and packed up to join up with you.  Looks like it's my turn to save you."

"You can save me any day, Kara."

Cille arrived beside them.  "Advisor!  You've done well."

Kara bowed.  "Thank you.  But the Layan forces were undoubtedly make a stand here.  In the close confines of the city, it's going to get very ugly.  I've seen it before."

"Not this time," Bran said.  "We're getting out of here.  We've botched this one, Kara.  The Layans never took Rysel."

"No?"  Kara frowned.  "Then where could they have staged that attack on Landen from?  There's nothing to the north, and coming from the south you'd have to pass by Rysel.  Why wouldn't they have taken it?"

Bran shrugged.  "I don't know.  If I knew, we'd be winning this war.  But this is the first time Rysel's ever heard of either Orakio or Laya."

"Could they have come from across the lake?"

Cille interrupted.  "We've got to go.  We can discuss this once we've reached the safety of Landen.  Already the light is fading."

The others nodded.  Bran and Cille rounded up the others hiding while Kara passed the word to her forces.  As the Layans scattered deeper into the city, the Orakians turned around and rapidly retreated.  Bran shook his head.  They'd hurt the Layans, but they'd gotten hurt, too, and it seemed as if they'd made an enemy in Rysel.  Of course, so had the Layans, but allies were something the Orakians needed desperately.

As the sun sank below the horizon, the Orakians departed the city and beat a path back towards the tunnel to Landen.  And then Cille screamed.

Her sudden outcry stopped both Bran and Kara in their tracks.  Her hand, shaking, lifted to the night sky.  Bran and Kara looked up.  And gaped.  So did every other Palm person in the army.  Everyone stumbled to a halt and stared.

Before, there had been nothing but a velvet black field sprinkled with the twinkling lights of distant stars and closer planets.  But that was before.  How long had they been there, Bran wondered inanely, his brain unable to handle it.  Had they been there the whole day, hidden by the light of the sun?  Or did they only appear at night?

"What...what are they?" Kara said, her voice cracking.  Bran was unable to even frame a reply.  He licked his lips and swallowed.  He had been afraid of the Bio-Hazards.  But that was just the fear of death.  He could deal with that.  The fear he felt now he could not put a name to.

One was purple.  One was red.  And they heard a voice call out from behind them.  Turning, barely able to tear their eyes away from the sky, they saw Lune and Alair with remains of their army.

"The word you are looking for," Lune said, grinning like a madman, "is moons."

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