In The Name Of The Mother
East of Landen-Aquatica Throughway, Aquatica Habitat,
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
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,
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
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
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
"What about you?"
"I'll get the robots to hold the Layans off while
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
Cille shrugged. "Sorry. They didn't
"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?"
"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.
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.
"Bran!" she called, a smile lighting up her face.
"Don't get me wrong. I'm glad you're here.
But what about Landen?"
"Good news. Your excitable friend is back."
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
"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."