In Your Eyes I Find a Mirror
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is a sequel to "Steel and Stone." It isn't absolutely necessary to read that story first, but it would help to clarify certain matters referred to herein. Otherwise, the reader is liable to be aware that there is more of a story "under the surface" than is written on the page. An experience not entirely unlike playing Phantasy Star III, when one thinks about it.
"There are four of them, my lady Queen," Kyle Morin told Sari, the seventeen-year-old queen of Landen. Kyle was technically ranked as a captain in Landen's army, but he saw little battlefield duty; his billet was Military Intelligence, and he acted as liaison between that force and the palace.
Ever since Landen had acquired new cyborgs, designs from the ancient days of the Devastation War between Laya and Orakio, the war with Lune had reached a stalemate. The first strikes by the new robots had broken Lune's scattered military and forced his army back across the river between Landen and what had been the kingdom of Satera. The Layan, however, had acted like the skilled general that legend called him, and stiffened his resolve, treating the Orakian defenders like a foe to be confronted than vermin to be wiped out. Battles were fought, offensives tried by both sides, but for nearly six months the western half of the world had belonged to Lune and the eastern half to Landen.
More than once, Layan spies had attempted to sabotage the war effort, but the efforts of Kyle's division and, on at least one occasion, Sari herself, had foiled them.
"Four? They're sending so many?"
"Yes, but this time something seems...wrong. There's something we don't know about them."
"Beautiful," Sari growled sarcastically. "I hate riddles." She tugged absently on her brown ponytail, a sure sign of frustration to those who knew her well. "What has you so puzzled?"
"Their openness. They've just walked into Iluk and Yaata and asked about you and the Power Topaz, immediately marking themselves as outsiders."
"That's about the last thing I'd expect from spies."
"Quite. Are you aware of the foreign cyborgs that have entered Landen?"
"Yes; I've been told. They're of similar models to our new robots but ignore orders from us. They aren't attacking any Landen-folk or our cyborgs, though, which makes them a secondary problem at worst compared to Lune."
Kyle brushed a wisp of electric pink hair out of his eyes.
"Well, we think that we've identified what these cyborgs are after. Our observers have repeatedly witnessed them attacking the Layans."
"And the outlanders are beating them?"
The spy made a face.
"Handily. They're excellent small-unit fighters. Which leads me to another problem."
"Well, one of them, a female, is obviously a Layan. She uses techniques and fights with slicers just as the women in Lune's forces do. Another one, a man, also appears to have Layan powers, but he wields a sword!"
Sari pursed her lips.
"I've never heard of a Layan swordsman--though a Layan spy would likely use Orakian weapons if he didn't want to give himself away."
"But to the extent of becoming a master? Where would he receive the training?"
Sari, who was quite possibly the best fighter in all of Landen, appreciated the point.
"No, that wouldn't be easy."
"Then, there are the other two, a red-haired woman and a dark-haired man. The woman uses claws in battle, and the man...he wears armor that covers his entire body except his face and the top of his head, and he fights with what looks like some kind of cyborg cannon unit, only carried externally like a needler!"
"So who are they, then?"
"I don't know, but we can be sure of only two things: they want the Power Topaz, and they arrived in Landen this morning."
Sari sighed heavily.
"Which means they'll be coming here to see me eventually. All right, Kyle, order the gate closed."
"From what you've said, they're either not Lune's spies or they're very crafty, but they're definitely after the Power Topaz." That stone was the most important treasure in Landen. It would be very difficult for Lune's spies to sabotage the Orakian war effort, but with the Topaz a single, daring individual might shut down Landen's cyborg production--and since the Power Topaz was the keystone for the factory, if the spy got away it couldn't be restarted.
Beyond that, it was also the only thing Sari had left of her mother, the late Queen Lena of Satera. When Sari had first learned of the practical uses of the golden jewel, it had been as if Lena's hand had reached out from the other side to aid her daughter. She wasn't going to let anyone take the Power Topaz away.
"Make sure the secret entrance to the dungeons from the technique shop is left open and unguarded. We'll invite them in that way."
"They want the Topaz, and we can't give it up. That sounds like a recipe for a fight. If it comes to that, I don't want it to take place in the town, or--if we welcome them in--in a throne hall packed with spectators. No, instead we'll let them sneak in. I'll throw a few cyborg patrols in their way to gauge their reactions and should worst come to worst, tire them out, eat into their strength. I'll confront them personally beneath the throne room."
"But...what if things go wrong there?"
Sari smiled wolfishly.
"We'll have two divisions of cyborgs here in the castle. One will descend the stairs outside once they pass, cutting off their retreat back to town. The other will wait in the throne room, ready for me to call. These four may be good, but they can't handle a hundred frontline war robots. At least, not all at once."
Prince Ayn of Cille sighed as he stood over the sparking remains of a group of Minimechs.
"Even here," he complained, "even here in Landen we're attacked by cyborgs!"
"Logically," observed Wren, "it may be noted that we are intruders in a secure area of the castle." Wren was the armored man noted by Kyle, but in truth he was not a man at all. He was a Shiren386 Wren-type android equipped with combat and technical systems operation/maintenance skill packages. His fellow android, the redheaded Mieu, was strictly a combat machine but had an even more advanced personality, one equipped with human emotions.
Ayn sighed again.
"Yeah, but that's another thing. Why lock the gates against us? It's lucky I remembered my father telling me about the secret passage into the dungeon or we wouldn't have gotten this far."
Ayn's father was King (in exile) Rhys of Cille, but Rhys had been born Prince of Landen. Rhys had fallen in love with a mysterious girl named Maia, and had embarked on a great quest to rescue her, only to learn that she was actually a Layan princess from the world of Aquatica. Love had triumphed over the ancient Orakian-Layan enmity, and Rhys had abdicated the throne of Landen to marry Maia.
"If they would only listen," Ayn said, somewhat petulantly. He was only a teenager, after all, and had the fate of two kingdoms riding on his shoulders. "I'm sure if we explained things we could work something out, but instead here we are, creeping through a dungeon, hacking our way through a horde of cyborgs."
"Unless Landen's thrown in with whomever attacked Shusoran and Cille," suggested the fourth member of their party, "the way Lensol did. The Landen-folk are Orakians, after all."
Thea Ra Mira, Princess of Shusoran, knew well about those who aided and abetted the cyborgs' mysterious master. In the attack on Shusoran and Cille, she had been kidnapped and taken to Lensol in Draconia. Ayn, Mieu, and Wren had been able to rescue her, luckily enough, and use her Twins' Ruby to journey to Landen in search of the Power Topaz.
"I won't believe that, Thea. These are my father's people. They wouldn't help destroy our lands."
"The people of Landen do exhibit behavior quite different from those of Lensol," Wren said. "In Lensol the population hid behind closed doors, but the Landen-folk are quite willing to talk and even exchange information. Only official channels appear to be denied to us."
"Thanks, Wren," Ayn said. "You can believe, though, that I'm going to get an answer to what's going on, even if we have to bludgeon our way in through every cyborg in Landen."
It wasn't much longer before they reached what had to be the end of the dungeon maze. In a small room they encountered the first human they'd seen in the castle. It was a young woman with brown hair, loose pants of the same hue, and a white blouse. Her face was attractive enough, but the look on it was sour and harsh. She held steel knives in both her hands, and her grip looked like she knew how to use them.
Cyborgs moved into position to defend her. Three were Commsats, which Ayn had encountered before, thin-bodied robots with the capacity to launch poisoned darts. The others resembled the ubiquitous Arachnes, but these spiders were red and metallic--blood and chrome--instead of green, black, and yellow. Their forelegs ended in sharp, bladed spikes and no doubt they were equipped with the same kind of Gra weapon as their emerald cousins to crush multiple opponents at range with sonic vibrations.
It would not be an easy fight, Ayn thought.
"My name is Sari, Queen of Landen," the woman said. "You've chosen an interesting way to come and see me."
"There was no other option," Ayn replied. "You saw to that; your soldiers wouldn't so much as take a message from us. We're here now, though, and we need to talk."
"I already know what you want, Layan! You've come for the Power Topaz, but you won't get it without a fight!"
The attack was instantaneous, the cyborgs charging with Sari's challenge. Mieu was the fastest; she lashed out at one of the Commsats with her claws, reducing it to junk metal. Thea hurled her slicers; the throwing blades spun in a wide arc, slashing the three spider-bots, then returned to her hands. The attack did relatively little damage, though; this version was both better-armored and tougher than the common Arachne.
Then the other side counterattacked. One after another, the three spiders fired their Gra weapons, a cone of sound engulfing the four companions with each shot. Vibrations sought to rip apart flesh, shatter bone, and crush metal; armor was no protection against this kind of attack.
The humans, especially, were left stunned by the rapid-fire Gras, and Sari used that when she made her move. A knife flicked out, knocking one of the slicers from Thea's grip, and then her right hand drove through the girl's defenses, crashing into her face. Thea reeked back, and this opened up enough distance between them for Sari to pivot into a rising spin kick. Her foot connected with the side of Thea's head, and the Layan princess was knocked senseless onto the stone floor.
Thank Orakio she at least follows the Law, Ayn thought as he managed to get his sword up to block Sari's whirlwind attack. Orakio's Law and Laya's Law both forbade the killing of other humans, and while the Orakians used cyborgs and the Layans used monsters to do their killing for them, no honorable member of either race would take a life with their own hands. It was fortunate that Sari was honorable; she could have just as easily used her knives on Thea instead of her hands and feet.
Ayn dimly was aware of the low-throated boom of Wren's cannon sending an explosive round into one of the spiders, finishing it of, and of the squeal of Mieu's claws cutting into another robot, but he had to reserve most of his attention for Sari. She was a brilliant fighter, faster than he was, almost as strong, and with conditioning so superb that she barely seemed affected by her own exertions, much like Wren and Mieu. Most of her attacks he was able to parry, and his armor stopped more, but now and again Sari found the chinks in Ayn's protection, wearing him down with minor wounds, and once she gave him a long, painful slash along his left arm that slightly hampered his two-handed fighting style.
In the end, it was equipment rather than skill that saved the battle for Ayn. He'd seized an opportunity to take a long, sweeping cut at Sari and she'd gotten her knives up, crossed, in what Ayn realized was a catch-parry that would allow her to twist the sword from the prince's grip. However, Ayn's sword was a technological artifact from the Devastation War which projected an edge of pure force while Sari's knives were common steel. One of the blades snapped at the hilt and Ayn's sword crashed with stunning force into the queen's chestplate. She staggered, and he used the flat of the blade to knock her down. Ayn's boot came down on her wrist, and the point of the sword leveled at her face in an obvious though toothless (because he wouldn't have acted on it) threat.
Wren and Mieu, meanwhile, had managed to finish off the remaining cyborgs and Mieu was using her various medical abilities to repair the damage inflicted to human and mechanical companions alike. A surge of relief passed through Ayn as she used her Res Medical Power on him.
"Thanks, Mieu. Is Thea all right?"
"She will be in a moment."
"Now, as for you," he said to Sari, "you're going to hear us out whether you want to or not. We've come much too far with too much at stake to give up just because the government of Landen is in a collective fit of pique!"
"I suppose you think your father could do a better job?"
"I'm sure of it! Wait--you know who I am?"
"I know what you are. I recognized Wren and Mieu from my mother's stories. You're the son of the traitor, Rhys."
Sari growled and yanked her arm free. Ayn stepped back, ready to continue the fight, but Sari only slammed the knife back in its sheath.
"What would you call it?" she said viciously. "He up and runs off, leaving his homeland without an heir, breaking his engagement to my mother, all to marry some Layan from another world!"
"He had his parents' blessing to marry Mother!" Ayn protested. "Besides, he wasn't really engaged to Lena; it was only a political alliance proposed from childhood."
"Exactly. So, when his parents died, instead of a united Landen and Satera ruled by Rhys and Lena, Landen had an ineffectual regency of power-hungry nobles. They were caught up in their little games when Lune invaded and Satera was crushed."
"Lune?" Ayn said.
"I know that name!" Thea chimed in. She'd regained her senses thanks to Mieu's ministrations, but was still a bit woozy. "He was a great hero of the Devastation War a thousand years ago, one of Laya's generals."
Sari shot her an angry look.
"I should have expected that from a Layan. Your 'hero' has invaded Landen with an army of monsters. Satera has been reduced to rubble. Most of its people are dead. My mother is dead. The western half of this world is in Lune's hands, and it's been all we can do to keep him out of the eastern half."
Ayn put away his sword.
"Then it sounds like you know what we're feeling, Sari," he said softly. "An army of robots attacked Cille and Shusoran, the Layan kingdoms of Aquatica. The survivors--what few there are of them--are hiding in a cave in Aridia. Lyle, who helped your mother and my father long ago, was badly wounded and may die. Lyle is Thea's father." He nodded at the green-haired girl, identifying her for Sari.
For a moment, Ayn felt a hot spike of jealousy. Sari may have lost Satera and Lena, but at least Landen and its people were alive and doing well, staving off the attacks of this Lune. Cille and Shusoran were gone, and Ayn had no home.
Then he put the feeling aside. After all, he also had one thing Sari lacked: both Rhys and Maia were alive and well, and no castle or city was equal to the worth of loved ones. Of family.
"Why do you want the Power Topaz?" Sari asked. There was more softness in her voice now, the tales of their mutual losses having blunted the anger.
"We're chasing a legend," Ayn said, "a land of eternal peace called Satellite."
"Eternal peace?" the queen said. "That sounds like a fairy tale, all right."
"No," Thea said urgently, "we've found clues! It's said that we can get there from Techna in the world of Draconia."
"Draconia? Where's that?"
"It's a world east of Aridia and southeast of Aquatica," Ayn explained. "We were told that we need the Power Topaz to get to Satellite. It's got to be some kind of keystone, we think, to open another passage."
"It could be," Sari said. "At least, we've found uses for it here."
"We have to have it. The people of Cille and Shusoran can't survive where they are now. They need a new home," Ayn urged. "That's why we've come all this way."
He stared into Sari's dark eyes, wondering if through the anger, he could make her see.
Sari had no love for Cille and Shusoran, and if the betrayer Rhys was suffering she was glad of it. Rhys's whelp, though, was another matter. The pain of losing a home was plain on his face when he spoke of what had happened, and Sari knew that pain all too well.
She trusted him, of course. It was just possible that the Layans of Cille and Shusoran could have allied with Lune and sent Ayn as a spy to steal the Power Topaz, but never that the androids Mieu and Wren would have betrayed the Orakians so completely.
Then an idea struck her. Ayn wanted to take the Power Topaz to a whole different world, one far from Landen. What's more, this world was apparently overrun by cyborgs like those that were pursuing Ayn--cyborgs exceptionally hostile to Layans like Lune...
In truth, she couldn't think of a better place to put the Power Topaz so Lune couldn't get his hands on it.
She could help protect another race of refugees, as she had defended the Saterans here in Landen.
And, she might well have a chance to catch up with the man who should have been her father instead of Ayn's, who'd run out on his own people, and let him know exactly what he owed to Landen and Satera.
"All right, Ayn. You can take the Power Topaz, but I'm coming along to guard it!"
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