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Heavens Fall Without You
by Rune Lai


She fought him as he carried her in his claws. He didn't understand it. Even if she had amnesia, he thought the sight of him would have jogged her memory. "Don't you recognize me?" he bellowed into the wind. "It's Lyle. Lyle Ra Mira!"

Perhaps being kidnapped had thrown her in shock. Or more likely it was the sight of a giant bronze dragon that scared her. But Maia just kicked and screamed. His beloved cousin, he had searched for her for so long. Weeks. Months. Nearly all their family had given her up for dead, but not Lyle, and now he would bring her home.

Lyle, a man in dragon form, swooped down towards a cave mouth. He possessed the Sapphire and the entrance hummed in reply, granting him passage. They dove into a metallic world. The forests and warm hillsides of Landen disappeared, replaced by the interior of a mammoth cylinder of technology. A transparent walkway snaked out in a maze beneath them, but as a dragon Lyle merely flew above it. Monsters created from the thousand year old war between the Orakians and Layans milled about the passageway, but all stayed clear of the Dragon Knight.

Sometime during this journey Maia quieted. Lyle almost thought she fell asleep, but a quick glance assured him that she had not. "Are you feeling better?" he asked, softer now.

She lifted her head, meeting his dragon eyes with the tears welled in her own. "Who are you?"

"I am your cousin, Lyle. We grew up together."

"Cousin? But you're a Layan monster."

He slumped his neck, wounded. "Monster? This is only my dragon form. You don't remember it? You'll see my human face when we arrive in Cille. You'll see. You'll recognize me." He hoped so. He prayed to Laya that it would prove true. "Maia, we both are Layans. You were about to marry an Orakian, one of our enemies! I couldn't let you do that."

"I'm a... But no one's seen a Layan in a thousand years!"

"Look around you. Save for me, no one's been through here for a thousand years. On the other end of this is our homeland, and there are plenty of Layans there. I'm taking you back to your family. Your parents are worried sick about you. They've almost given up hope for you."

She fell silent at the mention of her parents. Poor thing, Lyle thought. Even though she's afraid she wants to remember everything.

"It won't be long," he said aloud as he swooped upward.

They exited the cave with a rush of air. The sphere of Aquata spread out before them, wrapped in the darkness of nightfall. The once verdant landscape was now covered with snow. There was no sign of the storm that had raged in the days before he left, but it left in its wake a chill that permeated even the thickness of his dragonhide.

"Take me back inside," said Maia.

"Cold?" he asked. He folded his talons around her, trying to block the worst of the unnatural winter. He had only heard about snow in legend, and the sight of it disturbed him. Never had this happened before.

"No, I want to go home. Back to Landen."

"Maia, who knows what they'll do to you there! They're cruel and bigoted, without a regard for life!"

"They are not! If there's anyone without a regard to life it's you! You're the one dragging me all the way out here, out in the cold, away from Rhys..." She sniffled.

Lyle shifted his bulk. Hurting so much herself, she could not know how much her words stung him. "Don't cry," he said. "Your tears will freeze."

"Rhys is a kind man." She sniffed again and wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her wedding gown. "He didn't know who I was. I had nothing. But he still took me in. He nursed me back to health. I would have died without him. You think Orakians are bad but they're not. My memory might not be complete, but I know compassion when I see it!"

They flew on in silence, but not over the ocean towards the Layan kingdoms of Shusoran and Cille, where Lyle and Maia were respectively prince and princess. The ocean had not yet frozen over and Lyle had an idea. Unlike in the world of Landen where only Orakian settlements existed, the sphere of Aquata was home to four major communities. One of the islands was home to Cille, another home to Shusoran and the Orakian kingdom of Agoe, and here on the mainland, a narrow strip of land that was not an island merely because it was not surrounded by water, was the town of Rysel.

The people of Rysel stayed neutral in regards to all affairs Orakian and Layan, and expected others to behave the same during their visits. Lyle had come here on occasion before and knew one of the townfolk. This person had been the one who introduced him to the fact that there were other worlds besides Aquata. Lyle had a feeling that this friend would likely be able to help him here as well.

"Is this home?" asked Maia as they landed at the edge of Rysel.

"No," he said. "I hope to meet a friend here."

Lyle stayed in dragon form to prevent her from running. He would have to let her go free of his claws while transforming back to his human self and he couldn't risk her escaping, especially into temperatures this bad, especially if she chose to leave town. The chill alone could kill her in hours. That thin slip of a warm weather wedding dress wouldn't give her more than five seconds of protection.

He crept behind a house on the edge of town. Light shown from the rooms upstairs, its inhabitants likely huddled warmly together to avoid the chill outside. Lyle tried to make his voice sound as human as possible and called out "Benth! Benth! Come outside!"

Someone stirred inside and moved for the curtained window.

"No!" He shook his draconic head, forgetting the uselessness of the gesture. "Just come out downstairs. It's Lyle."

A short while later, light shown through the downstairs windows. Then a dark-haired young man opened the door, lantern in hand. "Lyle?" he asked. His eyes widened when he found not a man standing by the back door, but a dragon.

"No time for questions, Benth," said Lyle. He opened his claws so that Maia had no choice but to move towards the back door. "This is Maia. Could you please take her upstairs and make her comfortable? Her memory was damaged some time ago so she doesn't know anything about Aquata or the people who live here, but she is otherwise of sound mind." He looked down at Maia. "And as for you, don't try to run. It's not safe outside of town. These are nice people. I can't take you back to Landen, but I will see what I can do for you."

Reluctantly, she stepped forward and Benth lead her inside. "I'll be back," said his friend. "My sister can take care of her while I talk to you."

The dragon nodded as the door shut to keep out the cold. Snow began to fall and he flapped his wings to shuck it from his skin. The light traveled upstairs and only when it came back down again did Lyle transform back to his human shape. He shivered mightily in the cold, wrapping his cape around himself. He would have worn a coat had he known the weather would get this bad, but even the coat might not have been enough.

Benth opened the door again, somewhat less surprised to now see Lyle the man standing outside. Sparing the prince any questions, he simply stood aside and gestured for him to come in. Benth started a fire in the living room while Lyle flopped into a chair.

"I see you found your cousin," said Benth, taking out a towel and offering it to Lyle. "Was she in that desert world I pointed you to?"

Lyle accepted it gratefully but shook his head. "No, but she was in another one. I wouldn't have found it if you hadn't told me about the first. It's frightening to think that there's so much in our universe that we don't know about."

"That's why I haven't told anyone about the desert world besides you and my family. I'm not sure how to break it to people, and it's really not all that necessary to know for the type of lifestyle we lead. We're quite content right now."

"At least the people of Rysel are." Lyle planted his hands on his knees as he leaned forward. "Shusoran and Agoe have been having skirmishes for as long as I can remember. The cyborgs of the desert world... If Agoe knew of them they could gather reinforcements and wipe us out! I should let my father and uncle know as soon as possible so they can prevent that..."

"But?"

"Maia says that not all Orakians are bad."

"Of course."

Lyle shook his head. "You didn't grow up Layan, or Orakian for that matter. You think it's just a silly matter, two ancient kingdoms fighting each other, but it's more than that. It's our heritage. If we let the Orakians gain ground for just one day they would be over us like scavengers."

"People are people," said Benth, taking a seat in a chair across from Lyle. "That doesn't mean they'll suddenly be your best friend, but if the both of you ever took the time to cool off and think things over, maybe you'd actually remember the reason you began fighting."

Lyle scowled. "Everyone knows that Orakio and a band of his followers attacked Laya and started the whole thing."

"And to hear an Orakian tell it, the reverse is true."

"We can't both be right."

"No," mused Benth, "though I suppose you both could be wrong." Catching the look on Lyle's face the young man waved a hand to dismiss the matter. "Academic interest. Never mind."

A moment of silence passed. Then Benth asked, "Is that why you're upset? Because of the different worlds and that Orakians might not be as evil as you were lead to believe?"

"Maybe some of it is because of that, but really it's Maia." He could not help but glance at the staircase leading to where she had gone. "I found her and I should be happy; thrilled. I dreamed of flying back to Cille with Maia on my back; the two of us laughing and crying as we returned to her parents. There would be good cheer and festivities. I would have upheld the honor of being a Dragon Knight.

"Somehow none of it's turning out right, and it's not just because of her loss of memory. Even if she doesn't remember the details of her past, Maia is still Maia. I want to trust her judgment, but in doing that there is so much more demanded of me."

"Have you talked it over with her?"

"I couldn't. Not as a dragon. Maia looked at me with fear. Fear. My dearest cousin was afraid of me. Maybe after she's calmed down a bit upstairs I can talk to her then, but not before. I kidnapped her on her wedding day. She's terribly upset."

Benth sank back into his chair. "That certainly complicates the matter."

"More than you know."

Lyle lowered his gaze and when he spoke again his voice was soft. "Maia is my fiancee. There aren't very many men eligible to marry her because of her status as princess. Just a handful of nobles and myself. Our parents decided it when the two of us were little. We grew up friends. Maia was very dear to me. I could trust her with anything. She would never laugh at me, even when I did something terribly stupid. I knew about the marriage arrangement, and I grew so used to expecting that I would one day marry her that I never thought it might turn out otherwise.

"I love Maia, she means the world to me, but she doesn't love me in return. Even if she had her memory back, she wouldn't love me, not as a future husband." He sighed. "And now she's fallen in love with someone else. I don't know if she'll still love him once she gets her memory back, but if she does I want to see what kind of man he is for myself. I won't let Maia marry a man who isn't deserving of her."

"And of yourself?" Benth asked.

"I don't know. It's probably healthier for our bloodline if she marries someone else. I suppose I'll do that too."

Lyle heard footsteps on the stairs, moving back up the steps. Maia. The brash and cheerful Lyle of the recent past would have been embarrassed if she heard him saying such things, but now he felt nothing. Those were his feelings and if she did not accept them now she never would.

"Listen," he told his friend. "Tomorrow I have a favor to request of you. I noticed the lake hasn't frozen yet. Please, take a boat and get Maia back to her family. They will reward you handsomely."

"You're not going to take her back yourself?"

"No. If this Rhys fellow is the man she thinks he is, then he must be madly searching for her. I want to see him, see what lengths he's willing to go through for her. You know for how long and hard I sought Maia. I expect nothing less from him. I'll monitor him, and if he proves worthy, and Maia wishes even after getting her memory back, I'll let him see her again."

There was little else to say to that, so Lyle bedded down in the living room for the night after Benth provided him with a pillow and blanket. When morning came, Lyle and Maia broke their fast still on different floors of the house. Lyle stepped outside the door when Maia came downstairs. He would escort them to the boat, to make certain Maia boarded with Benth, but no further than that.

She barely glanced at him when she came out the door at Benth's side. Lyle trailed them both, silently, to the wharf. When they reached it, Maia paused. She turned and met his eyes, still without a sign of recognition.

"Your parents will get your memory restored," said Lyle. "After that... Well, it's your decision."

"I heard you last night." Her words, free from tears, sang like music in his heart. "Your voice sounded... comforting. I can't put it any other way. I'm glad to know why you're doing this."

"Do you?"

She never heard his challenge. By then she had climbed aboard and walked towards the small cabin. Benth patted Lyle on the shoulder.

"Don't worry," he said. "I believe there is a natural order to things. You know the reasons you're doing this and that's all that really matters. It will all work out in the end. You'll see. How can anything truly bad come out of love?"

Then they left. Lyle watched the boat pull away until it became a speck on the horizon. He turned and left the sleepy town of Rysel behind. Midway back to the cave he changed to his dragon shape and flew like no other creature could. He envisioned Maia's homecoming, how the faces of the people of Cille would light up upon the return of their beloved princess. His aunt and uncle would emerge from their punishing depression and Cille would be a kingdom revived.

Shusoran would benefit too, for what happened to one kingdom happened to the other. It was inevitable with the royalty so closely related. Yes, Lyle should be pleased, but why did he have to feel so sad? Why did his good-natured cheer have to become a mask? He hoped he would sincerely like this Rhys. He'd better, for Rhys's sake.

The dragon flexed his claws as he dove through the connecting tunnel between the worlds of Aquata and Landen. When he ermeged on the other side he flew over a town, making sure its inhabitants could see him. Rhys would recognize the dragon as the one who kidnapped Maia and come looking for him. When the Landen prince came to fight it, he would find a man instead, a curious man named Lyle who would offer him a way off this world to continue his search for Maia. It was only fair, since Benth had helped Lyle find his way out of Aquata.

As for Maia... Maia...

Lyle winged down on a large island south of the kingdom of Landen.

Maia now thought he swept her away out of his own personal love. And truly that was a good part of it, but it was more than that, more than just him, more than even their royal relations, more than the people of Cille. She didn't understand. She was everything, everything that mattered. History would weep and the heavens fall without her.

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