The Cost Of War
Sari knelt down on the crest of a sheer-sided bluff and examined
the smoking form of a cyborg. It's midsection had been ripped open by a
clawed monster, leaving strange metal parts she had never seen before
strewn about the surrounding rock. Some coolant leaked from the
creature's mouth, staining it's face and neck. Sari pressed her
fingertips on the cyborg's eyelids and forced them shut. The sight was
heart-wrenching. This cyborg looked all too familiar. It looked like a
friend. And although Sari knew this dead cyborg was not the one known
as Mieu, she felt as though she had lost a friend nonetheless. After
all, it had been by Sari's order that this nameless, unknown cyborg had
marched into battle and died. But that was a necessary evil. That was
the cost of war.
Sari stood and scanned the valley between her small bluff and
another one several hundred meters away. The lowland plain therein had
been burned, decimated, in the battle of that morning. The charred
ground still smoldered, and the motionless forms of monsters, cyborgs,
and soldiers alike smoldered with it. Sari winced and had to look away.
"Kill no living thing..." Orakian and Layan alike had broken
their vow that day.
Still, the armies of Landen knew victory. Under Sari's command
they had forced the hordes of Lune away from Landen's borders and into
the wilderness near the cave to Elysium. Another attack could very well
drive them off completely, and then Sari would see to it that the cave
was sealed forever. She would not allow another tragedy like the fall
of Satera to happen again.
Shouts from below pulled her from her reverie. The cyborgs were
in an uproar. A few bold individuals had begun to march towards the
neighboring bluff, where Lune's army was camped, even though Sari had
given no order to do so.
Sari took a small metal box from her belt. She pressed a button
on its top and it flipped open, revealing a screen and speaker. She
fumbled with the device for a moment, and then pressed another small
button located on the device's bottom. "Blasted ancient technology,"
she thought. "I'll never get the hang of this."
The face of a cyborg that looked somewhat like Sari's friend Wren,
only much taller and broader, appeared on the screen. He was the
queen's commander amongst the cyborgs, and strangely enough, his name
was Wren also. "Yes, Queen Sari?" he asked.
"Yes, hello," Sari said, still not sure what to do with the
unfamiliar communication device. Mieu had given it to her years ago.
She'd called it a "visiphone." Strange word. "What in Landen is going
on down there?" Sari asked. "I have not given the order to charge."
The cyborg nodded. "We know, Your Highness, but a new wave of
biomonsters has just emerged from the cave."
"How many?" Sari asked through pursed lips.
The cyborg shook his head. "We don't know. Hundreds."
Sari sighed and closed her eyes.
"Would you like me to call the others back?" the cyborg asked.
"No," Sari whispered. "Tell them to charge."
The cyborg nodded and severed the connection. Sari replaced the
device on her belt and scanned the area. At first she saw no new
monsters, but then made out a black mass on the horizon. There could be
no doubt it was a swarm of biomonsters, swiftly approaching. "May
Orakio bless the keen eye of the cyborg," Sari muttered, and then
prepared to descend the hillside.
Before she could do so, however, movement on the other bluff
caught her attention. Sari stopped in mid-step and focused intently on
a vague form that had just appeared on the summit of the neighboring
mount. At first she saw just a head, then shoulders too, and finally an
entire body. It was a woman. Not a monster, but an actual woman. It
was the first time Sari had seen a woman in the Layan camp.
She was young, roughly the same age Sari had been when she
embarked on her mission with Prince Ayn nearly twenty years before. The
woman wore purple armor and purple headgear adorned with fierce horns
and the Layan insignia. She stood in a knee-up position, with her foot
resting on a rock. Her chin was high. She reached up and removed her
helmet, letting long green hair and a silken bandanna fall down around
Sari recognized the girl at once. It was Princess Kara, the sole
spawn of accursed Lune.
Princess Kara, the illegitimate daughter of an unknown woman whom
Lune had bedded in a fit of drunken lust. Poor child had been abandoned
by her mother and ignored by her father, made despondent by his
loneliness. The raising of the child had been left to Alair, who had,
it turned out, too soft of a hand. Kara had grown up angry at everyone
around her, and at herself for being so undeserving of love. When the
war began again, the Orakians proved a perfect outlet for her bitterness
and rage. She had let her feelings flow in a manner she never had
before, and there was a chain of ruined villages and burned fields to
Kara reached into a holster at her hip and removed a small,
rectangular object which she unfolded lengthwise. It was a slicer,
Lune's own slicer, possibly the most fearsome weapon of its kind ever
fashioned. It had a lime-green casing and a laconian blade that was a
shimmering, metallic silver color. When completely unfolded, the slicer
was half a meter long with a blade so thin on its edge that it could not
be measured by any means known to the Orakians.
Sari stood motionless for nearly a full minute, waiting for Kara
to descend the hill as Sari herself was about to. And Kara, in return,
stared at Sari.
Sari could take it no longer; she broke her gaze with Kara and
began to descend.
That, she would later decide, was a mistake.
As soon as Kara saw she was no longer be scrutinized, she reached
back and hurled her father's slicer with all of her might. Split
seconds later, Sari heard the whirring sound and knew what it meant.
Without looking up she reached over her shoulders and removed her
laconian sword from its hilt on her back. She thrust the sword upwards
and outwards at a forty-five degree angle, deflecting the slicer easily,
and sending it flying back across the valley directly at Kara's face.
The princess of Dahlia cursed and ducked as the slicer just missed
her, imbedding itself in the side of an old tree. She hastily retrieved
it and then began to descend to the battlefield herself, where the
monsters and cyborgs had finally met.
Night was falling by that point, and the twin moons Dahlia and
Azura were coming into focus overhead. Kara looked up and blew a kiss
to the violet moon, her home, where her father Lune was waiting for her
return and planning the fall of Landen.
Sari gazed up at the blue moon Azura, home to her friends Ayn and
Thea, as well as their Layan kindred. Sari considered how fine it would
be to have friends beside her during a fight once again. For twelve
long years she had battled Lune, and for twelve long years she had
done so alone.
By the time Sari reached the valley, it was soaked with the blood
of monsters and the lubricants of cyborgs. She leaped over fallen
comrades and enemies alike, felling one of Lune's horrible creature here
and there, as she raced towards the center of the battlefield, where she
knew Kara would await her.
And Kara did get there first. She stood atop a pile of three
defunct cyborgs that had fallen one over the other as they were
destroyed. The body on top was still smoking and smelled of petroline
and burnt hair and rubber. It was an awful stench, but the Layan girl
didn't seem to care. To her the odor of dead cyborgs was the sweet
smell of victory, and nothing more.
But to Sari it was nothing but a catalyst for renewed rage.
"What do you want with us?" Sari asked Kara through clenched
teeth, brandishing her sword in anticipation of battle.
"Consider this war a petition for the release of my aunt, Lady
Alair, from prison," Kara said, staring down her nose at the sweaty and
bruised Orakian queen.
"What have your troubles to do with us, Dahlian?" Sari asked.
"Leave my kingdom be!"
"You are Orakian," Kara said, shaking her head and sneering. "And
so are those who hold my aunt captive. All Orakians will pay until her
freedom is secured."
"Yes, but why was she arrested in the first place?" Sari asked,
taking a few steps closer. "For being a common spy! I hope they put
her to death for her crimes!"
Kara's eyes went wide. Her jaw shook and she said, trembling,
"Your filthy Orakian lineage alone would be cause enough for your death.
But for what you have said, I shall enjoy your demise all the more!
Prepare yourself!" She screamed and leaped off of the pile of cyborgs,
brandishing Lune's slicer like a dagger.
Kara, though young, was a skilled fighter. Her speed and aim were
true, and it was only Sari's experience that kept her from harm. At one
point Sari tripped Kara, giving her a spare second in which to drop her
sword and brandish a long laconian knife instead. Although her recent
mastery of the sword had proved beneficial time and again during the
course of the war, Sari's first choice for one-on-one combat would
always be a knife. They were much easier to handle than a sword could
ever be, and faster as well. Brandishing a knife, to Sari, after so
many months of carrying a sword, was like a homecoming.
"Do you really wish to fight me, girl?" Sari asked. "I'm sure the
tale of my killing six of your filthy monsters with one pocket knife has
reached even your remote rock."
"I don't fear you, witch," Kara hissed. She tried to move her way
around Sari, looking for an opportunity to strike. But she could not
find one. She and Sari began to circle around each other like two
street urchins knife-fighting over disputed territory.
Sari laughed. "You have the audacity to call me a
witch, you treacherous spell-caster?"
Kara ignored the comment. "You will die for the sins of your
fathers, for the sins of Orakio. Wicked Orakio, who stranded my father
on that cold moon for a thousand years!" She charged.
Sari blinked when she saw the blade of the slicer coming at her.
Kara was incredibly swift, but Sari was even faster. She ducked, and
the slashing blade passed clean over her head. Sari looked up and saw
her chance. She stabbed upwards with her knife. The blade imbedded
itself in Kara's armor but did not pierce it.
The Layan princess didn't miss a beat. She undid a clasp and her
armor fell away. Again she charged at Sari, this time more careful not
to leave herself open to attack. Sari, her knife still in Kara's armor,
dove for her sword and again used it to drive her opponent off.
Thusly they fought for nearly an hour, parrying and thrusting,
again and again. It grew darker, and the battlefield was lit only by
the light of the moons and the glowing blasts from cyborg cannons. But
then there was a tremendous rumbling, and a flash of light lit up the
night like midday. The combatants looked up and saw the blue moon
Azura, the home of Sari's dear friends, explode. There was no fire out
there in the void, just light, and then the pieces of Azura flying off
across the sky and into the cold reaches of space, from where they would
Sari and Kara both were motionless. Remembering where she was,
Sari locked her gaze on Kara. Sari was crying, and her lip trembled as
she shouted, "Kill no living thing! Your father's infernal master said
to kill no living thing! And look at what he has done!"
Kara stammered. Father had said nothing of an attack on Azura.
The blue moon's inhabitants were Layan, even if they were friends of
Sari's. The moon's destruction was obviously the work of ruthless
Orakians. And if Azura could be destroyed so easily, then could Dahlia
possibly be any safer?
People are not so different. Sari was willing to endure all the
horrors of war and risk great injury to herself in order to keep her
And Kara, who wanted only for vengeance, was willing to forsake
her chance when a threat to her home and hearth presented itself.
"Retreat!" Kara screamed to her monsters, signaling in the
direction of Elysium's cave. "Retreat! We must return to Dahlia at
Sari watched, puzzled, as wave after wave of monsters swarmed past
her without any notice of her presence at all. She, their greatest enemy, may
as well have been invisible. In scant moments every last one of Lune's
minions had gone. Sari looked at where Kara had stood and saw the
Layan's bandanna, torn and soiled, lying on the ground. She picked it
up and tied it to her belt. It would be a trophy, but commemorating
what? Landen was saved, yes, but at what price? The cost of war was
bad enough. Who among them could possibly afford the price of