Compared to the searing heat of Aridia, the passageway to the world
known as Draconia was unexpectedly cool. Sari, in her short jacket, found
herself shivering. She smirked when she looked at the Layan princess Thea,
who was most underdressed in her sleeveless blouse with a skirt that stopped
above the knee. She was obviously very cold.
"Thea, are you going to be all right?" Ayn asked her as the party led
by the Prince of Cille entered the strange mechanical cavern. "I could give
you my cloak..."
"No, Ayn, it's all right," Thea said, her teeth chattering. "It
isn't that bad in here. I just need to get used to it. That's all."
"I could engage my Flare unit on its lowest setting, Your Majesty,"
Wren said. "It should warm the area around me rather nicely."
"Flare?" Thea asked, her index finger pointing to her mouth. "Hmmm...
I don't believe I've ever heard of that technique."
"It isn't a technique," Sari said matter-of-factly. "It's a special
skill that cyborgs have. It's like your Layan Foi."
Thea nodded, and then looked away from Sari. Her eyes bugged out and
she made an ugly face as she said, "Oh-ooohhh... So sorry!"
Mieu and Ayn both chuckled.
"What's so funny?" Sari demanded.
"It's nothing, Sari," Ayn said. "Let's keep going."
The party continued deeper into the cavern, occasionally running into
party of corrupted Orakian death drones which posed no threat to the combined
might of the five highly-skilled warriors.
After walking for some time, Sari and Thea fell a few paces behind the
prince and his cyborgs. Sari took the opportunity to have a few words with
the heir to Lyle's throne.
"Your father is the king of that country...the one Rhys' cousin
"That's right," Thea said. "Shusoran."
"So...you and Rhys are related then," Sari muttered.
"Correct," said Thea. "King Rhys and I are related, but only
marriage. You see, Queen Maia, Rhys' wife, is my father's first cousin. That
makes she and I second cousins. So, King Rhys is my second cousin, also."
"So then...you and Ayn are third cousins," Sari whispered.
"Yes, we are. We used to see one another all the time when we were
young. My parents and I used to visit Cille kingdom regularly, and King Rhys
and his family came to Shusoran often, as well. Ayn and I hadn't seen in
other in several years until this past week, however, when the cyborgs began
attacking." It was Thea's turn to look at her companion sideways. "You
really don't know who is behind it?"
"Surely you saw your own attackers," Sari said. "Why do you ask
"All I saw were cyborgs," answered Thea. "They all look alike to me,
except for Mieu and Wren, of course. They are family almost as much as
"That's highly unusual... Layan cyborgs..."
"Do Mieu and Wren consider themselves Layan? I doubt it."
Sari shrugged. "Their master is Layan. And no, I don't know who
attacked your kingdoms. I'll admit that the idea did cross my mind, but I
never would have gone through with it. Ayn has shown me that King Rhys is the
only object of my revenge, not his family or people."
Thea laughed. "So you really plan to kill him? I'm afraid I cannot
let you murder one of my kinsmen. And I doubt Ayn is warm to the idea."
Sari looked at the floor. She had to admit to herself that her hard
heart had been softened considerably by Ayn. Although she still spoke of
exacting her revenge, her heart was simply no longer in it. But, although she
had to admit it to herself, there was no need whatsoever for her to
reveal it to
her companions, especially Thea.
Thea cocked an eyebrow. "You have feelings for him, don't you?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Sari said. "He is a Layan. His father
destroyed my realm."
"It didn't look all that destroyed to me." Thea said it very
Sari looked down into the murky depths which lay all around the thin
catwalk the party was crossing. "That's because you didn't see it before."
"Oh... Well, neither did you, really. And after the events of the
past week, I know a ruined land when I see one. Landen isn't one of them,
Sari. It truly isn't."
Sari glanced at Thea. After a silence she said, "Do you...have
feelings for him?"
Thea's milky skin grew even paler, although her cheeks were rose
petals. "Of course! I love Ayn! He is family. A cousin."
Sari's eyebrow rose and she shook a finger at Thea. This was a rather
intimidating gesture, as the Queen of Landen was holding a freshly-sharpened
force knife in the same hand. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."
Thea played with a laser slicer nervously. She turned its shining,
foldable blade over and over again in her sweaty hands. "What about you,
Sari? I asked you first."
"Think what you will," she said. The words came with so much venom
that Thea would have thought Sari should spit after saying them for fear of
"And you do the same," the emerald-haired princess said. "We will see
"Good news, everybody!" Ayn called from the head of the party's queue.
"I can see the exit up ahead."
Sari smirked and nodded.
Thea waved her slicer about in the air. "Hurrah! Satellite, we're on
"Can we say, 'kissing up?'" Sari said in a very low register so that
only her Layan counterpart could hear.
"Can we say, 'jealous?'" Thea retorted. The challenge in her voice
Ayn stood beside the stairwell which would lead the group to the
surface of the world known as Draconia. It was a balmy world of white sands,
cool breezes, and tall, thin trees that dropped large brown nuts. Mieu and
Wren awaited the two royal women on the other side of the catwalk.
"Leave it to Prince Ayn to lead us to victory," Thea said. She stood
before her distant cousin and curtseyed most regally.
Ayn was taken aback, flattered, and...otherwise pleased by the
display. He gallantly took the fair-skinned princess' hand and kissed it.
"After you, my lady," he said, bowing and indicating the exit.
Thea smiled and ascended.
Sari followed her. To Ayn she said, "Perhaps you aren't so bad after,
Son of Rhys." With that she lightly slapped the side of Ayn's face, and
winked. She climbed out of the tunnel without another word.
"Shall we be going now, Prince?" Mieu asked. But Ayn simply stood
where he was, stunned and unable to speak.
"I will help him," Wren said. Taking the prince's hand as he had done
when Ayn was but a child, Wren led his master out of the dreary passage and
into the sunlight above.
Even after emerging, Ayn remained in his trance for a few seconds
Mieu shook him and said, "Hello! Shall we be off?"
"Right..." Ayn muttered, clearly very embarrassed. He unsheathed his
laser sword in a grand gesture, pointed it towards the sky, and said, "To
"Oh, Ayn," Thea said dreamily. "As a Layan, I am so proud to be on
this mission with you."
"And don't forget," Sari interjected as she stepped between Thea and
Ayn, "that without my Power Topaz, the trip would be impossible."
Ayn smiled and said, "You're right. What a pleasure it is to have you
both along... What a pleasure indeed..."
Mieu sighed and shook her head. "Royalty. Or should I say
Wren put his arm around his long-time companions' shoulders and tugged
her in close. "Mieu, my dear, that is one I have yet to figure out."