That night, there were celebrations in the seven domed worlds of the Alisa III. The shadowy demons which had been the minions of Dark Force and its puppet Rulakir had faded from the world. Undead horrors had collapsed into dust when they were cut off from the power of their monstrous lord, sealed away--fully, this time--by the power of the five Nei weapons. Other, more physical foes like the corrupted folk of Lashute had been decimated by Sean's Megido technique, which had torn the whole city apart.
These events had echoed across the domes, for when the Lashutans had died, there was no one to command their monsters and cyborgs. The horrors bred in their laboratories and factories over the millennium since the Devastation War were stronger than any the world had seen, but they were still merely footsoldiers, possessed of no evil will of their own. Monsters reverted to their animal instincts without a controlling influence, while cyborgs fell inert, awaiting orders. Neither was the ravaging force threatening Orakians and Layans indiscriminately that they had been while under Lashutan control.
Even in Terminus, the dome which Lashute had scoured bare of all but its own diabolic creations, there was good cheer. Oddly enough, the happiest of the group of five which had wrought Dark Force's defeat was Mieu, the red-haired combat cyborg. While her fellow android, Wren, was generally more advanced in terms of skill and functions, Mieu had one thing he did not: a fully-developed personality program, complete with human emotions.
Wren's lack of a need for companionship had made him the perfect choice to guard their little camp in case of wandering monsters who might mistake heroes for supper. Sean and Kara were sitting by the fire, talking earnestly (and laughing more than talking; they were two-thirds of the way through a bottle of very old, very potent Dahlian brandy Kara had been saving "for a special occasion"), and Mieu hadn't wanted to butt in.
"Looking at them makes me feel very old," she decided.
"If it's any consolation, you don't look a day over five hundred."
Mieu turned. It was, of course, the fifth member of their party who had spoken. Laya's strange, dark eyes with their white pupils and the scarlet jewel in the center of her forehead set her apart from the other humans, but not more than her lineage: she was the younger sister of the Laya, the leader of one side in the Devastation War, who had given her name to the Layan people. Like Mieu, the younger Laya was an ancient. Technically, she was actually older than Mieu; Laya had been born on the planet Palm, whose doom the Alisa III had escaped, only to fall into the clutches of that doom's architect, Dark Force. Yet Laya was barely twenty years old, biologically; she had spent centuries caught in cryogenic stasis.
"Well, coming from you that means something," Mieu riposted, then took all the sting from her words by bursting into a fit of the giggles. "I must admit, though, that makes me feel every one of my years." She nodded at Sean and Kara. "First Rhys and Maia, then Ayn and Thea, now...who knows?"
"It would be entertaining. Fire and stone, those two."
"Sean wasn't always so cold," Mieu defended her master. "Well, admittedly he was always serious and determined, but the loss of his parents and his people seemed to strip the happiness from him."
"Perhaps defeating Dark Force and closing the circle will be good for him--for them both."
She picked up a pebble and, with a flick of her wrist, sent it skipping across the lake's surface.
"I hope so."
"Do you think it will be good for us?"
Mieu tilted her head, a gesture her programming told her indicated curiosity among humans.
"Us? What do you mean, Laya?"
"Sean and Kara are young. They didn't have a mission; they just faced up to the challenges of the world they were born into. The rest of us are different, remnants of a bloody past cached by your creator and my sister in case of...what happened. Now, that is past us. Wren, of course, is programmed for service. Waiting, completion...they don't matter to him."
"But they do to us," Mieu realized where the girl was heading.
"What will we do now?"
Laya sat down on the shore. After a moment, Mieu joined her.
"Live, I guess. I never really thought about it. My duty has always been to serve and protect the descendants of Orakio. The completion of one quest within Sean's life doesn't change that duty."
"I see. Then Orakio never told you about Dark Force?"
Mieu shook her head.
"No, just like he never told me about his alliance with your sister." That oversight still rankled, though reasonably she knew that he probably had never had the chance.
"He must have cared for his family very much to have left you to protect them." A faint smile played around Laya's lips.
"Yes, Orakio always regretted the demands that war placed upon him, that they had to spend so much time apart."
"He reminds me of my sister. She always protected me, really more of a mother than a sister in truth. Laya was nearly twenty years older. I suppose that's my answer, really. She didn't have me wait as a weapon to fight Dark Force; she was trying to keep me safe from the war. That's why she hid me away, to make sure I'd get the chance to live. If she won, she could come back for me. If not, then...then there was her pendant and her message, so I could finish what she started."
"And Wren to finish for Orakio. It's strange, isn't it? The Lashutans boasted that Rhys and Ayn had danced to their tune, opening the sealed passageways, and yet even as they were unknowingly helping Dark Force they were also gathering the seeds of its defeat. Bringing the moons near freed Lune and Siren from their prisons, but it also brought two of the Nei weapons, Lune's Slicer and Siren's Shot, back to the Alisa III for Kara and Wren to use."
Laya smiled her wry, secret smile again, a smile that hinted at nine hundred and eighty-seven years of frozen dreams.
"Strange? Maybe, but I don't think so."
"Well, Orakio and Laya committed a great wrong. They fell prey to Dark Force's deceptions, and their war not only devastated our ship but killed so many others on the fleet that was destroyed. To atone for a sin of that magnitude can't be done in a moment. It might even take centuries."
"Do you think--?"
The younger Laya winked playfully, and just for a moment Mieu thought she could see reflected in the girl's midnight eyes two faces, smiling happily at their family.