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Pale Flower
by Orakio of the Domes

I sat in a small cushioned chair, face towards the window, just relaxing, and taking in the sights of the sea near my home. A faint breeze blew in, and it gently caressed my skin like a lover. The slightest hint of a salty tang was carried in along with it, and I drank it like wine. Indeed, my soul already felt renewed.

Rhys was already asleep on our large, comfortable bed. I studied him from my chair, watching the soft movements of his chest as he breathed, and realized how much I had come to care for him. I turned away, the faint light of Dahlia and Azura gleaming upon my face and my hair.

The rolling waves seduced my heart. I longed to be down there on the beach, just to have some time to think to myself. Growing up in the kingdom of Cille, I had spent much of my childhood walking along the beach, admiring the beautiful scenery, and wondering what lied on the other side. My elders had always warned me not to venture off to far when a storm was approaching, but ironically, that was what brought me to my husband.

Deciding that it wouldn't hurt to take a brisk walk, I stood up in my silken nightgown and left the room, ever so quietly. The hall was devoid of any life. I knew that most people, including my darling little Ayn, were already asleep at this time of night -- the witching hour. Upon hearing that sentence, I smirked to myself, bitterly. Witching hour. The Orakians have always held a hatred for us, and given us a great variety of names to taunt us.

Throughout the course of the thousand years that had passed since the Great Devastation War, they had contorted us in their legends, made us to be horrible incantatrixes who ruined their crops and ate their children. I cannot honestly say that I didn't have my own reservations about Orakians, but I at least believed them to be human.

After I had recovered from my amnesia, after living months in the seat of Landen's throne, and being whisked away by cousin Lyle moments before my first failed marriage was complete, I realized that Orakians were not barbarians. They knew how to treat people with courtesy, and although some of them were a bit crude, I could deal with that.

I protested when Father told me I had to stay in my chamber until my "poisoned thoughts" were finally "rid of", but to no avail. I tried convincing my friends that they did not harm me in any way, and that they were good people, but they looked at me with the gentle pity of one who lays eyes on a mental patient.

"Queen Maia?" I was standing before the main entrance, lost in my own thoughts. The sentry's voice had shook me out of them. Still, it startled me to be referred to as "Queen". Father had passed on several months ago, but I was still not used to that title. "Is there something amiss?"

"Ah, no, Drego," I replied tactly. Although our kingdom was sizable, I felt no need for dozens of armed soldiers to guard us each night. I knew the few ones we had by name. "I was just about to take a little stroll on the beach, if that is alright."

The soldier bowed, his silver mail glimmering in the light of the many lanterns that hung in the castle antechamber. "Most certainly, Your Majesty." He resumed his motionless position by the wall, looking almost like a statue, as I stepped out into the night. It was much chillier than I had anticipated, but I could handle that.

I looked up at the heavens, and saw numerous celestial bodies winking at me. Dahlia was waning as the month drew on, and Azura was close behind it. I went on, hardly dressed for the occasion. The sand felt soothing between my bare feet, and for a moment, I forgot where I was.

I paced slowly, making my way steadily towards the shore. Huge boulders lined the shore, and I chose a smaller one. I hoisted myself up and sat on it, smiling. I used to sit on the rocks and watch the waves often, when I was younger. After marriage, I simply had not the time to do such things. It was a dreadful bore, all these diplomatic dealings with foreign states. Rhys and I somehow managed through all of them, though.

"Good evening, Your Majesty," said a voice from behind me. I spun around, bluish hair twirling, and saw that it was Mieu.

Smiling, I said, "Hi, Mieu. I guess cyborgs can have insomnia, too, huh?" She smiled back, nodding. Something in her eyes belied her pleasant expression. She looked weary, and I knew why. Despite her dazzling exterior image, I knew her to be well over a thousand years old. She had fought alongside Orakio once, and had also known Laya. It was unsettling to think about what it would be like if I was thrust -- willingly or not -- into continued existence, doomed to live on while all others around me died.

"I saw you come out tonight and wondered if anything was wrong." When I shook my head and replied that everything was fine and dandy, she went on. "You have this nostalgic look on your face, and seem like you things to talk about. If it'd be alright, I could be the ears that you need to have around." She lifted herself up and sat on the large rock, next to me.

She had guessed my mind accurately, albeit I didn't know what I was thinking until the words came out of her mouth. "Yes, I was just reflecting on...past times." Mieu was silent, so I continued. "I grew up here in Cille, and my happiest memories of it are on the beach. The calmness that it emanates simply can't be matched by anything else on this world. For me, at least."

The night air was suddenly still, and even the sea seemed to be becoming quiet, as if it were trying to listen in on our conversation. "I remember Aquatica in its infant days," Mieu said. "It was a wonderful place, and still is. The waves and the sands look so much the same, and yet I know that everything has changed. The people I knew are all gone. Or at least most of them." She said nothing more about that last cryptic statement, so I felt an urge to ask.

"What...what do you mean by 'most of them'?"

She drew in a breath, and responded. "The humans that I knew -- Orakio, Laya, you know -- are all gone, and their images have been distorted so much in history. I wonder what they would think if they visited us today, and saw how they had been elevated to the status of gods! But that does not answer the question. The humans I knew are gone, yes, but there are exceptions. There are, of course, other cyborgs besides me that are still functional, most of them in Aridia. One in particular made my heart sad when I saw her."

Her face was hidden in shadow, and I felt it impolite to ask her to go on, so I waited for her to come out of her sorrow. "Miun." It was a simple word, probably a cyborg designate, but it clearly held much meaning for Mieu. "She was my...counterpart, and the last time I had seen her before our encounter in the present day was in a battle. She fought valiantly with Orakio and I, as well as many more combat cyborgs. After the fight was over, she simply was nowhere to be found, and we suspected the worst. Indeed it was, but nobody in the battle that day, except for Wren and I, ever got to find out what had happened to her."

She said the words slowly, shaping them out and letting them roll out of her tongue. "We found her again, wandering the deserts of Aridia. Her internal workings had clearly been damaged greatly, including the right half of her face. She said to us, simply, 'Where is Orakio? It's been a thousand years, but I'd know his black sword anywhere.' There was nothing more we could get out of her."

I was a little apprehensive when Rhys had told me that he had two cyborg companions that would come to live with us, but in time, I had found out that Mieu and Wren were little different than ourselves. However, I had never thought about how deep their emotions went, and now wondered what kind of scars were on an old soul trapped in a young body. " sorry." I managed.

She clutched my hand with surprising strength. "Don't be. This does not involve you." Then, she just looked away, once again a slave to her age.

The silence was disturbing, and I felt the need to say something else. "As I grew up, I was taught to hate Orakians." I paused. "I am sure that they were told to despise us, also. I was always told that they were ruthless heathens who plundered towns and stole young women away to use How images get so changed by time! I wish that everyone out there knew the truth. I'm sure that the people in the castle believe Rhys to be noble and honest, but they think that he is a speck of gold in a mound of dirt. It simply frustrates me to see people with these preconceptions. We should unite as a people, and live on prosperously, instead of holding these fears to ourselves and letting them fester and multiply!"

"That is indeed the correct way of thinking, Queen Maia," said Mieu. "But I'm afraid people just aren't that open-minded. I wish th-" Before she could finish that thought, a long, ghostly howl was heard. Her eyes widened, and she looked from side to side, as if expecting a hidden monster to suddenly leap from the shadows and brutally murder us both. I was fearful myself, too. The sound had driven a stake through my heart. It was so...pained and ghastly, that I shivered in the night. "I have no idea what that was," Mieu said quietly. "But let's just hope that it was the wind."

"Yes," I said, more to myself than to her. "Just the wind." My nightgown fluttered in the night, and I closed my eyes, just letting my senses take in all they could -- the smell of the ocean, the sound of the breeze, the rough feel of the rock I was sitting on. When at last I had opened my eyes, Mieu was gone. Concerned that I had been abandoned without a word of warning, I looked towards the castle to see if she had gone inside.

The castle was also gone. "What in the name of Laya?" Stretched out all around me was the sea, and the beach. No signs of human development were anywhere. Gasping, I let myself down from the rock and surveyed the area. In the distance, I could usually see the lights of Shushoran twinkling faintly, but they were completely gone. Feeling fear clutch at my heart, I staggered as I walked, and found myself looking into the sea at my own reflection. I looked the same, and I hadn't felt a thing, but I was certainly not home.

A lump of dread was in my stomach as I glanced around, hoping to see a familiar face. When none came, I sat myself on the sand, and pondered hopelessly. This place was deserted, except for me, and there wasn't a shelter anywhere. What was I going to do? I looked up at the sky and saw that Dahlia and Azura were not close together, as they usually were. Rather, they were apart in the sky, and the waxings and wanings were totally different from when I first stepped out that night. Scared and perplexed at the same time, I tried in vain to formulate some sort of plan that might get me home.

Of course, as a Layan, I knew a variety of techniques, but none of them were of much use at the moment. A little to my left, the air shimmered and out of nowhere, a woman ran screaming towards me. Her cry cut the night air like a knife. She didn't seem to notice me as she ran, and I tried to ask her something, but she ignored me. Her screaming continued, as did her running, and the blue hair flew wildly behind her. If I had not dragged myself out of the way, she would've trampled me. At her side, she clutched a bow, but the quiver she had slung over her shoulder was empty. I noticed that her form seemed wavery, like she was a reflection in the water.

Suddenly, I had a realization. She was being chased. Appearing in the same, shimmery manner as her was a dark figure. I could not see it clearly, but it was wholly black, and it scared me utterly. It was in the form of a man, but it had no features. Just plain black. It looked like a spot in the world that God had neglected to fill in. The woman continued running and soon shimmered violently once again, out of existence.

I backed myself up instinctively to hide myself from the black thing as it passed. However, as it got to the spot where I was hiding in the shadows of the rocks, it stopped. Its wavery form seemed to distinct itself, and instead, everything around me blurred. I gave out a yell, and tried to get up, but felt my knees buckle. I had been wrong earlier. The thing had no face, but it did have eyes. Two glaring, red eyes.

Although being without a mouth, I could feel it smile as it laid its hands around my neck. Its grip increased, and the oxygen supply to me was decreasing, ever decreasing, bit by bit. My world was glazed with red for a moment, and I closed my eyes, trying to struggle. "Stop!" I wheezed. "Stop!" And as if it obeyed my command, it stopped. I gingerly opened one eye, and found myself looking into the concerned face of my husband. "Rhys?"

"Yes, I'm here, honey," he said softly. His eyes were concerned, and he was in his nightshirt. I realized that I was lying in the sand. Off to one side was Mieu, who seemed very distressed, and Wren was nearby, too. "Mieu got me as soon as she could. You two were talking, and she said you started screaming and ran off. She couldn't even catch up with you!" Rhys smiled wanly. "We scoured the beach and found you lying here just a few moments ago, kicking and screaming. We're about a mile from the castle, and dawn's a few hours away. I can carry you back, if you want, and you can get a wink of sleep." He took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"I...I'd like that," I murmured softly. Already, I could feel my eyelids getting heavier. What was that strange vision I had? A blue-haired woman with a bow running from a black shape? I had no time to ponder. Weariness overcame me, and I was lulled into sleep by the sound of the waves, a pale flower being carried away.

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