I Am Not A Mirage
The desert was a very different place at night. While
during the day, the dunes surrounding Hazatak were touched by
fire, at night they were as cool as the salty sea breezes
that caressed Cille's coastline. Stars, like sequins, were
peppered across the night sky. The moons Dahlia and Azura
were there too, still locked in their never-ending tango.
Prince Ayn took a deep breath as he stepped through
Hazatak's northern gates. He had a lot on his mind. He was
worried about his homeland, reduced to ruin by the mysterious
cyborg army. He was worried about his family and the
remnants of his people, who were at that time cowering in a
miserable cave far to the east. He was worried about
stopping the cyborgs, and of finding the legendary Satellite,
the one Haven of True Peace, which Ayn's father, King Rhys,
had sent him to find. And new on the prince's mind was Sari,
the bitterly angry young woman who now accompanied Ayn and
his friends yet treated them with an incomparable scorn.
The Prince stood lost in thought several meters north
of the town gates. And then a sudden sound behind him
brought him back to reality with the quickness of an eindon's
strike. The Prince whirled about, sword at the ready,
expecting to see some hideous monster sneaking up behind
"Sari," he gasped as he resheathed his sword. "It's
"Just me?" the queen of Landen asked. "Don't
take me lightly, Layan, or you'll get burned."
Ayn sighed and faced back out towards the desert. "I
won't ask why you hate us, Sari. We're Layans, you're
Orakian. And I won't even ask why you hate me especially,
since I know what my father's rejection did to your
Sari snickered. "To my mother? True enough,
but try to Landen."
Ayn resisted the urge to say "whatever." "Look, I
don't know why my father did all what he did. But he's a
Sari laughed out loud and faced out to the west, her
back to Ayn's back.
Ayn could feel his face going red as he said,
"Regardless of what you think of my father, my mother,
or...Laya, or my kingdom or anything, you cannot hold
me responsible for what happened before either of us were
"Why not?" Sari asked. "The legacy remains with
"But that's your own fault," Ayn answered. "Yes, the
anger has fallen to you. But that doesn't mean it's for you
to continue it."
Sari shifted uncomfortably and crossed her arms. Both
of them stood quiet for a moment, and then Ayn asked, "Why'd
you come out here?"
"Same reason you did, I'd presume," Lena's daughter
answered. "I needed some fresh air. I'm Orakian, and I
consider all cyborgs -- except for Mieu and Wren, maybe -- to
be my allies. Yet even I can't take the smell of
petroline and plastic that pervades this town. It's a shock
Orakio didn't forsake it."
Ayn laughed. "Perhaps he wasn't as bright as Laya
after all, huh?"
Sari grew hot, but then she realized it was intended as
a joke and not a slight towards Orakio at all. She laughed.
"Yeah, right. Perhaps."
"You know," Ayn said, looking about, "we probably
shouldn't be out here like this. We're far enough from the
town that a bolder monster might make a move against us..."
His fingers twitched nervously about the hilt of his
Sari laughed again. "Are you afraid, sweet prince?
Worried without your precious cyborgs? Worried about the
Ayn shook his head. "That's no ghost, Sari. Mieu and
Wren have both seen her. And my father swore she was
"A mirage, then," Sari rebuffed. "How amusing that you
should be afraid of a mirage. And a mirage cyborg at
that. You know that cyborgs can't harm Orakians, and you're
travelling with an Orakian. Or do you think the rules don't
apply to mirages?"
A strange whistle sailed through the air. Ayn could
feel the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Sari
fumbled in the darkness and drew a force knife.
"What in Landen was that?" she whispered.
"I...I don't know," Ayn answered. "Should
"Why not?" Sari said, drawing out a steel knife to
accompany her force one. "I'm not afraid of any eindons or
chirpers or whatever creatures lurk around here. Let's
Ayn nodded, and the two royals stalked out into the
darkness. Travel was quick and easy over the tightly-packed
sand of the desert, and within a few moments time, the few
lights of Hazatak were dim on the horizon.
"Nothing," Sari said. "So much for that
Ayn shrugged and looked around. "I guess you're right.
We might as well go back."
They heard it again.
"There it goes!" Ayn shouted. "But where is it coming
"Look!" Sari cried. Ayn looked at her, and saw that
her eyes were wide, and the knife with which she pointed was
glittering ominously in the moonlight. The prince followed
the pointing blade, and saw that, some meters away, walked a
man. And he was coming nearer.
The man was less than five meters away when he
"Who are you?" he asked. His voice was young, but
"Who are you?" Sari demanded. "No one speaks to
me in such a way."
"Watch your tongue, witch," the stranger whispered. He
didn't brandish the sword at his side, but his hand hovered
above its handle as he stepped closer.
Ayn thought the man to be a few years older than he and
Sari. The stranger was between the two of them in height,
and something about him seemed rather familiar. The stranger
was strikingly handsome, with thick brown hair and typical
Orakian armor. He carried a sword very similar to Ayn's, and
fastened to his belt buckle was a massive blue stone.
"Where in Cille did you get that?" Ayn demanded,
pointing to the stone. "That is mine!"
"What are you talking about, whelp?" the stranger cried
back. "The Sapphire of Satera is a family heirloom!"
"You're right, but you've got the wrong family!" Ayn
cried. "The Sapphire belongs to my father, King Rhys of
The stranger recoiled in shock. "King Rhys of
what? I'll have you know that King Rhys of
Landen is my father, so don't try to play any
games with me, you desert thieves!"
"King who of Landen?" Sari shouted. "It just so
happens that I am the queen of Landen. There
is no king!"
"This is...this is preposterous!" the stranger
cried at the top of his lungs. His face had turned red and
his begauntleted hands were clenched in anger. "I am Prince
Nial, son of King Rhys of Landen and Queen Lena of Satera--
Sari blanched at the mention of her mother's name.
"--and the Sapphire is mine. Now, get out of my
way! I must get back to Hazatak! I've had quite enough
fresh air for one night..."
Nial began to walk back towards town, but Sari grabbed
his collar. The prince nearly fell flat on his back.
"Who...who did you say your mother was?" she asked, her
"Why, Queen Lena of Satera, wife of King Rhys." Nial
looked at the two strangers questioningly. He was clearly
more than a little unnerved. "What is going on here? Tell
Sari released the prince's collar and fell to her
knees. "She's alive..." the girl-queen whispered. "Mother
"Yes, girl, my mother is alive," Nial whispered as he
helped Sari to stand. "Why? Has...has something happened?
Has Lune attacked Landen?"
Sari stared at Nial for a moment as if she were deaf
and dumb. Then finally she said, "Lune? I don't know who
that is. But Landen is fine. At least, my Landen is
"What do you mean 'your Landen?'" Ayn asked. "There is
only one Landen, isn't there?"
Nial looked at Sari. "You've heard the legends, too.
But they aren't really true, are they? How could they
Ayn looked at Nial and Sari. He felt utterly
exasperated and spent as he asked, "What legends?"
"They say," Sari began, "that the sands of Aridia have
powers not unlike those of a Grantz technique. The ancient
Layans possessed great wonders. The tunnels connecting the
worlds were made by them. One walks only a short distance
but comes out across untold distances in another land."
"Right," Nial began. "They say the whole of Aridia is
the same. When one steps into just the right places, secret
places far off the usual trade routes, one can find one's
self overcome by a secret power. Different times can
"This is all crazy," Ayn shouted. "What are you trying
"That none of us our impostors, Ayn," Sari said, her
voice still a whisper. "You are both the son of Rhys. You
are the son of Maia's Rhys, and he..." Sari turned to Nial.
"...is the son of...my mother's Rhys." Her upper lip
quivered as she asked, "Is she happy?"
Nial stared her dead in the face. Compassion and a
sense of oneness with this strange girl overcame him, and his
aspect softened. "Yes...Sari. She is very happy."
"I can't believe this," Ayn said. "Don't you both
realize? You are the same person!"
Nial blinked and stared at the prince of Cille.
"You're right...Ayn. We are both the only child of Lena.
"But that's not all," Sari said, wiping her eyes. "The
two of you are both the only son of Rhys. You are the same
person as well."
Nial gasped and looked from one of his counterparts to
the other. "You are both...me. You, Sari, are me with a
different father. And you, Ayn, are me with a different
Ayn looked at Sari and smiled a little sadly. "But you
"No, prince, we are not one," Sari said. "But we are a
great deal closer in kin and kind than I ever would have
"But...where does this leave us?" Ayn asked. "I mean,
who's world are we in, now?"
"Both," Nial answered, "if the legends are true, and I
don't think we have any cause to doubt them now."
"Indeed," Sari said.
"When you return to Hazatak, Prince Ayn, you will be in
your world. And I will find myself back with my friends, in
my own time and place."
"Your friends?" Ayn asked. "I don't suppose they would
include two cyborgs by the names of Mieu and Wren, by any
Nial smiled. "But of course. Our father is not a
Both princes smiled.
"But it isn't safe to remain in this state," Nial said.
"We must return to our respective worlds at once, lest we end
up somewhere we aren't supposed to be."
The queen of Landen grabbed her counterpart's hand.
A thousand plans raced through Sari's mind. She could
return to Landen. His Landen. Mother would be there,
alive and happy. It was a prosperous Landen. It would be a
kingdom without the hardship and horror of her own. She
would have a father, something she'd never really had but
missed sorely. And whereas her Landen was already ruined,
Nial's was a Landen that appeared in need of saving. A
terror named Lune had raised his ugly head; perhaps Sari
could help to lower it.
But then she caught Ayn's look. And when she saw his
face fall, Sari's own eyes dropped. They dropped just enough
to catch the faint glow of the Power Topaz in the dim light
of the moons. Ayn's entire kingdom depended on Sari for its
very survival, for only her Power Topaz could open the way to
Satellite, the last place in all the worlds that Ayn's people
had left to run to.
"What is it?" Nial asked.
"Nothing," Sari answered, wiping away another tear.
"Then we should go," Nial said.
Ayn nodded. "Right. Sari?"
Sari nodded, too, but said nothing.
The three "relatives" began their short journey back to
Hazatak as the dull glow of the moons became brighter and
brighter with the waxing of night. And as they approached
the cyborg town, a dreamlike feeling began to overcome them.
When Ayn at last stepped through Hazatak's gates, he realized
that he had walked the last several minutes with his eyes
closed. Or, if they had been open, he retained no memory of
anything he had seen, heard, or felt.
Sari was beside him. She, too, was just emerging from
the trance-like condition. She looked about, blinked, and
then stared at Ayn.
"Is he gone?"
Ayn nodded. "Yeah."
"What happened, Ayn?" Sari asked. "I remember it all,
"I know," Ayn said wearily. "Perhaps it was just a
Off in the distance, hidden by the darkness, walked a
bow-wielding woman, two men, one of which carried a long
black sword, and two cyborgs. And not far away, the cyborg
woman who was not a mirage cried out for forgiveness.