The dull, monotonous tone woke Ayn from deep slumber. He sat up in bed and
rubbed his eyes, clearing the last remnants of unreality out of his mind. A
voice just as dull and monotonous as the tone spoke from an intercom. It was
obviously a cyborg. "A visitor has arrived at the gate, King Ayn. Shall I
"Sure, sure, why not," the king of Azura mumbled as he got up and stretched,
dimly wondering who could've paid him a visit at this hour. Pale and milky
starlight filtered in through the windows above, and it shone upon his bed,
where Thea was still asleep. Deciding not to wake her up, he turned and
exited. The bright lights of the antechamber were a great contrast to the
eerie silhouettes of his chamber, and it took a while before the haziness in
his eyes disappeared.
When it did, though, he stepped forward and took a small elevator down to
the first floor, where his guest was no doubt waiting for him. To Ayn, who had
grown up in a technologically backwards place, the marvel of all these ancient
machines had seemed tremendous, overwhelming almost, when he had first settled
down on Azura moon after defeating Siren. There were advanced computer
terminals, visiphones, microwaves, and tons more! It took a while before
either he or his wife got used to the convenience of his home.
More than once, he had thought back to his childhood days, and wondered what
his old friends might have thought if they had seen him living in such
splendidness and such grandeur. And then he would wince as he remembered that
most of them had died in the massacre of five years earlier, when they had been
driven from their kingdoms of Cille and Shushoran. After peace was finally
regained, some of the survivors returned to their home countries, but most
stayed on Azura, which seemed securely comforting after the harrowing events
that could not be wiped from their minds.
Ayn stood patiently before an egg-shaped hatchway, waiting for the visitor
to appear. He absently wondered if it was another one of Sari's surprise
visits. Ever since he completed his journey to find the legendary land of
Satellite, the queen of Landen had come several times just to stay with Ayn and
Thea, for old times' sake, often showing up unexpectedly and leaving without
It was quite unorthodox, and some people might even think it rude...but it
was Sari's way, the king reflected wanly. He remembered the words she had
spoken to him years ago when he had first confronted her in Landen's dungeon to
retrieve the Power Topaz: "You won't get it without a fight!" Those
words were so true of Sari's demeanor. Finally, after much deliberation, the
hatchway opened with a slight hiss of escaping air, and out stepped a woman,
who gracefully made her way towards Ayn. It was most definitely not the queen
The woman wore a velvety magenta outfit with a cloak of the same color.
Bronzed boots laced with gold at the edges contrasted her other clothing, and
she wore fine jewelry all around. Ayn would've described the woman as
tragically beautiful. Despite the luxurious appearance, her face seemed to be
locked in eternal stillness, showing less emotion than a rock. Even without
expression on her face, the king had to remind himself several times of the
wonderful years of marriage with Thea. Her hair was a spectacular orange that
shone in the lights, and gave off a faint fragrant smell. She spoke with a
slight accent that Ayn seemed to find strangely alluring.
"Greetings, King Ayn," she said, a small smile creeping up on her face. "My
name is Fatima."
"Hello," said Ayn, sounding apologetic for some reason. There was a loss of
words. Then: "Is there anything I can do for you? If you're here for a tour
of the moon, I'm afraid that the daily hours don't begin unt-"
Fatima interrupted the king, holding up a hand. "No, I am not here for
anything of the sort. I come bearing gifts from my lord." Ayn raised an
eyebrow, and watched as the woman produced a silvery talisman from her outfit
-- a pendant -- and handed it to him. "My lord, of course, is the undying King
Rulakir of Lashute, and he wishes to express a token of friendship, from one
ruler to another. Perhaps in the future, his kingdom and yours can become
"Lashute?" he murmured softly. "I don't think I've heard of that place..."
If Fatima heard him, she gave no sign of it. "Please remember that this is a
gift, Ayn, son of Rhys." The king was obviously startled that his father's name
was mentioned, but the woman paid no heed. "And remember," she continued. "the
greatest scorn is a gift rejected." A shadow fell over the two for the briefest
moment, and it was gone before either realized it was there. Stillness
descended, and finally, Fatima said, "That is the end of my business here, I'm
afraid. I was sent to do nothing more but give this small message of sorts, so
I must be off now." With a grand flourish of her cloak, she was gone before Ayn
had time to say anything else. The hatchway opened and closed, and there was
only the talisman and the tangy, fragrant smell of the woman to proclaim that
she had ever come here at all.
The king, confused by the recent events, took time to study the pendant.
Its gray-white hue made it seem incandescent, and the lights danced upon its
surface. It didn't seem like anything priceless; in fact, he half thought that
perhaps Fatima was a commoner who had bought it off the streets as a joke, to
see if he'd actually keep it. But something about the woman told him that she
was genuine, and after taking long looks at the pendant, he realized that it
carried some of the same allure that its former keeper had. He found that he
could not break his gaze, and only a yawn from behind him knocked him out of
his trance-like state.
"Hi, hon," said Thea, still dressed in her robe. Deep circles were evident
all around her eyes, and it was obvious that she needed more sleep. "Who was
Ayn held up the pendant, and dangled it in the air. "Just a messenger." he
said, not wanting to reveal the full nature of his feelings during the brief
interaction. "Have you ever heard of a place called Lashute...?"
* * * * *
After relating the conversation back to his wife, Ayn sat and pondered about
what meaning this gift held. It had to be more than what was just said; the
whole ordeal just felt wrong somehow, and he was determined to find out
what was nagging at him.
Thea, lips pursed, commented, "Throughout all my journeys and the lore
Father taught me before he died, I don't recall ever hearing that name. Could
it be a newly developed country that we hadn't heard about?"
"I don't know," replied the blue-haired king. "Fatima said she was the
servant of the 'undying King Rulakir.' That's what strikes me as odd.
Undying? Could that be a title, earned through battle or something, or
something more? There's something bothering me about this. I'm trying to
remember what it is, but it keeps on escaping me!"
The two were sitting on their bed, cross-legged. Thea had her eyes
squinted, trying to make out some tiny words at the bottom of the pendant. The
talisman had the visage of a hideously sharp sword engraved in it -- quite
mundane, actually, but there were tiny little markings at the bottom that the
queen of Azura thought might be words, or maybe runes of some sort. "Too bad
Mieu and Wren aren't here!" she exclaimed with a sigh of frustration. "They
would probably know about something like this."
Their former traveling companions and close friends had gone off on a small
vacation, upon the request of the royal couple themselves. The cyborgs had
been toiling non-stop ever since the defeat of Siren, and Ayn and Thea thought
that they deserved a respite. Naturally, they chose Hazatak, in Aridia dome as
their destination. "It's not much of a vacation," Mieu had told them. "But I
haven't got the chance to fully interact with my fellows there ever since Rhys
and I met. I'd like to catch up, and spend some time with other friends."
"Of course," added Wren. "If you need anything while we're away, use one of
the visiphones, and we'll come as soon as possible. Your family is our
priority." Thea had smiled and told them to go and enjoy themselves, and off
they were. At this moment, though, she found herself wishing that one of them
had stayed behind to decipher the mysterious pendant.
"Forget it," said Ayn, rubbing his eyes. "Let's not make too big a deal out
of it. Just a gift, that's all." He leaned over and gave his wife a peck on
the lips, and continued, "Besides, look at the time." He pointed at the clock
hanging on the wall. "It's several hours until 'dawn,' and we need to rest.
Tomorrow's another regular day on Azura!"
"Okay," replied the emerald-haired queen, quite eagerly. "I must admit that
I'm still a little drowsy."
* * * * *
Thea's eyes fluttered open and she stared at the ceiling. Why couldn't she
sleep all of a sudden? It was probably the excitement in the middle of the
night that caused her body to refuse any rest. She had been tossing and
turning ever since Ayn showed her the pendant, and had only dozed off for what
seemed like a few minutes.
She stared at the ceiling contemplatively, and waited for her eyelids to get
heavier. They didn't though. Glancing around the room, her breath was cut
short as she saw something standing in the shadows. Feeling her pulse quicken,
she reached out to wake Ayn up. What sort of madness is this? she
thought. How could someone have come in without us knowing? It was very
obviously a woman, dressed in long robe. Could it be that Fatima who delivered
the talisman, waiting for her true assignment to be put into action?
The woman did not move. Tense moments later, Thea breathed a sigh of
relief. It was all her imagination. What she thought was an intruder was
actually one of her own dresses laid out on a chair across the room. Foolish
woman, she told herself. How old are we now?
She closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep. When she heard the
scuffling sounds, though, she let out a shriek. The dress, now animated as if
an invisible person were wearing it, had rose from its resting place and walked
over to her bedside. "What is it, darling?" asked Ayn, alert at a possible
threat. Thea's lips froze, and she couldn't do anything but point at the thing
standing before her.
The king, seeing this bizarre twist of reality, rolled off the bed
instinctively and pulled his wife with him. They landed on the floor with a
The animated dress advanced upon the two, floating effortlessly over the
bed. Thea, nearly in tears, raised a trembling finger and spoke a single word:
"Foi!" A flame appeared at the tip of her finger, and it grew hot and bright
within a few seconds. Then, it shot straight forward, like a dart, into the
dress. Under normal circumstances, the dress would've been incinerated.
The flame passed right through as if the gown didn't exist. Instead, it
collided with the wall and left a large, ashen char. Thea yelped as she saw
this, scrabbling to move even closer to Ayn. The two were fearful, uncertain
of what would happen next. But just like that, the dress fell limp to their
bed, and whatever eldritch spirit had possessed it earlier was no longer there.
* * * * *
"I don't want to think about it," dreaded Thea. "All I know is that it's
somehow related to that pendant the Fatima woman gave you! Even you said that
something about it felt wrong! Call it a hunch, but the pendant had something
to do with that dress coming alive!"
"Maybe," said Ayn. "But what of this Lashute?" He pronounced the name
several times to himself again, softly, trying to coax whatever was nagging him
to come out.
Ayn opened his mouth to say a few reassuring words, but was interrupted by a
hideous roaring from outside the chamber. A moment later, a massive claw
destroyed the door. The claw had yellowing nails, and was connected to a green
and yellow striped hand. A moment later, the rest of the body emerged, and a
hideous creature that looked like a cross between a moos, a blotter, and a
dreidon stepped into the chamber.
The king's eyes widened. "What in the name of Laya?" The beast took no
notice. In fact, it brushed itself off, and bowed cordially, quite different
than it had been moments earlier, when it had smashed the door down in a
"Hello," it said.
"Hello," said Ayn, too stunned to react naturally. Thea, too, had forgotten
all about protecting themselves and had her eyes locked on the creature.
"I'm the grumbler," said the creature. "I like to eat Layan princes who
don't listen to their elders. Especially blue-haired ponytailed Layan princes
named Ayn." No longer in his state of shock, Ayn grasped for a nearby
pocketknife and flung it at the creature. The knife embedded itself in the
thing's eye, but it plucked it out effortlessly. Not a trace of blood.
"Please don't do that," said the grumbler. "It kind of stings. Oh, I can't
eat you now, remember? I'll be back at noon to claim my prize." It smiled,
baring its two rows of sharp teeth. "I really must go. I'll see you later!"
The grumbler strode out of the room, through the hole he had made in the
door. Before Ayn or Thea got the chance to express their shock, it popped its
head back in and said, "One more thing: could you eat a few apples before that
time? They make human flesh just so much more tender. Thanks!" It smiled once
more, and its grinning head began to dissolve like a mist.
The hole in the door disappeared along with it, and there was nothing there
to show that the beast had existed.
* * * * *
"...and I would get smart with my teachers when I was small," said Ayn. "so
they cooked up a creature called the grumbler, who was supposed to eat me if I
didn't behave in my classes. This was when I was six or seven. I remember
being terrified of the grumbler, and being extra kind during all my lessons."
He shook his head. "When I grew older, I knew that such a thing didn't exist,
but who would've thought that it'd come back to haunt me now!"
Thea swallowed, eyeing her husband doubtfully. "But why can't he eat you
"Oh," chuckled Ayn, who seemed to have dismissed everything he had seen.
"Noon was my lunch break, and it was during that time that the grumbler would
come and find me if I misbehaved. At least that's what my teachers told me."
Thea shook her head and sighed. "This is all crazy. You're telling me that
a fictional creature from your childhood is stalking us. What about the dress?
And the weird disappearing act, and the door that repaired itself?"
Ayn's gaze was wistful, and he stared at the door as if expecting the answer
to be written there. "Well...what if the whole thing was an illusion?"
The king of Azura snapped his fingers. "That's it!" He turned to look at
Thea. "What if the stone had something to do with it? Say it embodied some
mysticism that allowed it to fabricate from the roots of our deepest fears.
Then it would all make sense! It must be a powerful hallucination or something
like it. That's why none of the cyborgs have come to investigate the noises we
heard as the grumbler tore down the door and that's why the door's still
A realization dawned on Thea as she listened patiently to her husband's
"I get it now! When I was a child, I never left my clothes hanging up in my
room, because I used to wake up in the middle of the night, thinking that
someone was in there with me! What we've been seeing are tricks that have
played on us, based around childhood nightmares!" Ayn nodded enthusiastically.
"That explains how the gown animated itself, and I'm positive it's that
damned pendant's fault!"
"Ayn, we have to destroy it now!" The queen stood up quickly and went
over to her nightstand, where the gift hung, swaying silently as if secretly
enjoying the situation. Thea picked it up, and looked at it for a moment.
Then, she clasped her hand around it, closed her eyes, and said, "Foi."
Flames of extraordinary colors began to appear around her hands, and they swept
across the rock. These flames would've been enough to melt steel normally, but
it had no effect whatsoever now. Thea's eyes remained closed and her jaw was
clenched as she sought to increase the intensity of the technique. No luck.
Finally, the flames died down, and her eyes opened. She threw the pendant
down to the ground. "Stupid, stupid!" she chided herself. Turning to her
husband, she said, "If this rock is that powerful, then why in the world would
we be able to destroy it as easily as casting a simple Foi?"
She sat down on the mattress, facing away from Ayn. "What now?" Nobody
The king hadn't been paying attention. His face was white as a sheet, and
he looked like he had seen a ghost. "I just remembered where I had heard the
name Lashute before." He was still sitting on the floor in his robe. Thea
turned around to look at him. "Frey -- you know, Frey, right?"
Thea nodded. He was a noble that had resided with their family long before
even Cille and Shushoran had been destroyed. Ayn continued: "He became a
teacher of sorts to me when I grew older, and taught me some things about the
Devastation War. Lashute was a place he spoke very little about; all he said
was that it once was Orakio's headquarters."
"That's all I know about it, actually. It would give a motive for the
'gift,' I suppose -- after all, some Orakians still have prejudices against our
people. But what doesn't fit in with the rest of the puzzle is wh-"
SILENCE. boomed a voice in their heads. The royal couple looked at
each other, and then around the room, but there was no one in plain sight.
Then, a bright halo of snow-white fringed with light blue appeared near the
door. It slid downwards, first revealing a face, then a torso, and legs. It
vanished when it touched the floor. Standing still as a statue was Fatima.
The stony look on her face that had oddly attracted Ayn earlier now
terrified and disgusted him. "Ayn?" asked Thea in a quivering voice. Her eyes
were locked on the intruder.
"I said SILENCE!!" spat Fatima, now speaking. Ayn flung himself over to
Thea's side on the bed, holding her back protectively. Fatima began advancing
on the two, slowly but surely like a cat cornering its prey. She smiled evilly
at them. "My precious king, how are you?"
Ayn said nothing. "Begone, you foul incantatrix! I will have no interaction
with you or your deceitful kingdom!"
"Such harsh words," replied Fatima. The smile was still there. She let the
hood of her cloak fall back to her shoulders. "coming from one whose father
betrayed his country and his people!" Ayn opened his mouth to say something,
but Fatima just laughed. "Now, dear Ayn, why have you rejected our gift? Did I
not warn you against such things?"
"This...'gift,'" said Ayn, struggling to keep his composure. "is merely a
tool of your hellish witchcraft!" He stared the woman long and hard in the eye,
as if to prove that she wasn't an illusion like the previous encounters. "Leave
now, and I shall spare you from the hands of my cyborgs!"
"You really think I'm afraid of your pathetic mechanical toys?" A nasty
glint appeared in her eye. "Fool." She turned to Thea. "And you,
green-haired one, why did you try to destroy the pendant? Was it not precious
enough for your demands, sprouted from a lifetime of spoiling and pampering?"
"Enough!" shouted Ayn. His fear had been vanquished completely by rage.
How could this woman just appear and insult his father, his wife, his kingdom?
He stood in one fluid motion and lunged at her with arms outstretched. She
sidestepped the attack effortlessly.
"This is truly a sad sight, king of Azura," As she spoke, she began to rise
into the air. "I have no words for you nor your moon, either. If you have
chosen to reject a gift from my king, then it shall be so." She held out a
hand, as if seeking a handshake. But instead, the pendant, lying on the floor,
rose into the air and found its way to her like a magnet. "In the future,"
Fatima concluded, steely gaze in her eye. "if we ever cross paths again, we
shall be enemies. Goodbye."
And with that last word, she began to fade away slowly like a mist, leaving
Ayn and Thea alone in the room once again, lost in their confusion and fear.
The queen hurried to her husband's side and embraced him. She didn't let go
for a long time. The two of them held on to each other for dear life,
shivering in the night. "Oh, Ayn..."