PART I: Chapter One

 

 

 

 

Many years ago, a terrible war broke out upon the world of Samesina. The brave swordsman Orakio with his battalions of cyborgs confronted the dark witch Laya and her armies of monsters. This epic struggle was only one of several wars, as cyborgs took on monsters in mighty battles, and Orakio faced Laya in one-on-one combat.
   
    This is told in the Orakian and Layan folk tales as the Devastation War, and this name suited the event as many lives were devastated through the continuous fighting. Although these folk tales talk of the Devastation War as one mighty battle, in reality, the War itself was a collection of many small battles, then the final of these battles was a huge fight between the Orakian and Layan sides. This was the most tragic of all the battles during the Devastation War, as not one combatant escaped with their life. However, the bodies of Orakio and Laya were never found. Did they survive the Devastation War, or were they killed in action in some unknown reach of Samesina? Perhaps the truth will never be known. But their legacy lives on, as well as the bitter enmity between the Orakians and the Layans. No-one can predict whether this enmity will ever lift, or whether it was a by-product of the Devastation War.
   
    But then, 1000 years later, a young woman was found washed ashore near the town of Landen, the main Orakian town, located within the Chalst Province. She remembered nothing about how she ended up on that beach, nor did she remember anything of her life prior to that moment. As she was taken into Landen by the Orakian blood prince, an uneasiness simultaneously descended upon the Layan town of Shusoran in the Helskiz Province. Samesinian fortune tellers predicted that this uneasiness would trigger a chain reaction of events which would result in the imminent destruction of the Samesinian people. But were these predictions right?



* * *


The town of Shusoran was unusually quiet. People would normally be going about the daily hustle-and-bustle, doing their shopping and socialising, but there was much less of this activity. Instead people were cowering within their homes, as if a blizzard had suddenly descended upon them, yet the sun blazed down with its yellow rays. A slight breeze ruffled the leaves on the trees.
   
    However, in Shusoran Castle, where there is normally very little activity, was different this day. People were running around and panicking, and they were mainly making their way to the throne room, but some were going out of the castle. Noises of panic and confusion reverberated through the echoey hallways as everyone rushed around.
   
    "OK, one at a time!" a guard called. He tried to bring order to the gaggle of people dashing around, but his attempt was in vain. Several young women pushed past him and darted straight for the far end of the throne room. A young man was sat on the throne. He was tall and well-muscled, with lightly tanned skin. He had long, bright green hair that was tied in a ponytail, but the hair that was free cascaded down his back in a viridian waterfall. His fringe was wayward, and some tassels of hair hung in front of his ears. His lean face, with its boyish features, put him at around fifteen years of age, possibly sixteen. His deep emerald-green eyes sparkled mischevously. His attire was simple, consisting of a brown vest, a pair of grey trousers held up by a black belt with a silvery buckle, and a pair of black boots. A long cape was pinned around his shoulders, slightly to one side. He had a slight air of regality despite his boyish looks and simple attire.
   
    "Oh, hello there, my prince!" a blonde-haired woman squealed.
   
    "Hey there." the young, green-haired prince replied. His eyes met hers with a sensual suggestion.
   
    "What's going on here?"
   
    "I don't know. My father, the King of Shusoran, says it's a terrible disaster. A catastrophe, as he put it." The young prince pushed at his fringe with long, lean fingers.
   
    "Oh? Which is?"
   
    "A Layan woman was taken into an Orakian castle. In Landen, I believe."
   
    "What?!" The woman was shocked, and it showed. She stepped backwards and bumped into a patrolling guard.
   
    "Excuse me, ma'am. I need to have a word with the prince." the guard said calmly. The woman moved to one side, and as she did so, the young prince stood up to acknowledge the guard.
   
    "Hi there. Any more news?" he asked.
   
    "Well, Prince... there is something, but your father wants to tell you. In private." the guard replied briskly. The young prince hurried to the royal chamber of Shusoran Castle, where his father was. He was a great contrast to the youthful prince, with short, greying hair and wrinkled, pale skin. He was dressed in scarlet robes and he had a golden crown on his head. Because, not only was he the young prince's father, he was also the King of Shusoran.
   
    "Ah, Lyle, my son. Come in." the King said. Lyle raked a hand through his long green ponytail and stepped further into the room.
   
    "Hi, Dad. What's up?" the young prince inquired. The King took a moment to answer.
   
    "I know why Shusoran is in such a panic."
   
    "You do?"
   
    "Yes. King Ramond of Cille reported his daughter, Maia, missing. That was the first part. Then, somebody said that she had been taken in by the prince of Landen!"
   
    "Landen? But that's an Orakian town!" There was genuine shock in Lyle's voice. Not only had Maia been taken into an Orakian town, she was Lyle's younger cousin!
   
    "Lyle, my son. I want you to retrieve her. Your hidden power will prove useful here." the King said calmly.
   
    "Hidden power?" Lyle inquired.
   
    "Yes, my son. The hidden power of the Dragon Knight. The blood of the dragon flows strongly in your veins. You can call upon the power of the dragon when you need it."
   
    "I'll think about it." Lyle said, hurrying out of the room.
   
    "It's the only way to retrieve Maia..." the King sighed, but Lyle was out of earshot. He leaned back in the chair he was sat on, and prayed to Laya that the princess of Cille was safe.



* * *


Lyle made his way quickly out of Shusoran Castle to do some major pondering. His father had told him about the hidden power of the Dragon Knight, and that he had the ability to use it. But why hadn't he been told up until now? The information was overwhelming, yet something called deep within him. Something inside him willed him to use it, but he couldn't. Not yet. At least not until he figured out how to use it, and how to control it.
   
    Several guards called out from beyond the castle threshold. Lyle concentrated on the sound and tried to think about it. He didn't want to think about what his father had told him. But it was becoming harder with every passing minute. He tried to focus on the activity of the children of Shusoran playing in the streets, but that still didn't keep the young prince's inquisition at bay.
   
    A chilly wind blew from the west and made Lyle shiver. It was nowhere near winter, and the only other place it could have come from was the aptly named Frigidia Province, which was southeast of the Helskiz Province. So how could that bitter wind have come from the Frigidia Province? Another gust of cold wind blew into Lyle's face, ruining his concentration, ruffling his long, bright green hair and making his cape flap wildly behind him. As he looked around frantically, wondering where the wind was coming from, several more icy blasts of wind rushed past him and made him feel even colder.
   
    As more and more freezing winds rushed through Shusoran, the children who were playing in the streets screamed and ran to their homes. The other people panicked and raced towards their dwellings. Lyle was also in a panic, but he did not run into the castle. Instead he made a break for the gate out of the town. A rogue gust of wind ripped a roof off with its bitter cold hands and Herculean strength. Lyle ducked just as several roof tiles flew past him like missiles and smashed into the wall of a house. He looked down at the grass, and he noticed that ice crystals were forming on the green blades. The young prince wrapped his cape around his shivering body and ran towards the gate out of Shusoran, as the gelid wind threw more roof tiles and stray twigs at him like crazed hooligans.
   
    A curious warmth aroused within Lyle's veins. His blood felt warmer despite the frigid winds blasting him from all around. The strange heating of his blood piqued the young prince's interest. He thought of what his father had said; about the hidden power of the Dragon Knight. He closed his eyes and tried to focus the power. It was no use. Then he heard a voice over the howling of the winds.
   
    "May Laya's power protect you, Prince Lyle!" called the voice of one of Shusoran's local inhabitants. Laya was the patron deity of Shusoran and neighbouring Cille, and her followers used magic (but they called it 'techniques', instead). The followers of Laya, named Layans, were the sworn enemies of the followers of Orakio, named Orakians. The thought of Laya brought back the memory of Maia's kidnapping, and how Lyle's father had told him she had been taken to an Orakian town. Maybe that's what his heated blood meant. Maybe Laya was telling him that one of her people was in danger, and that he should go and rescue her. But how? Unless the power of the Dragon Knight was the key...
   
    Lyle ignored the frigid tempest of torturous intentions and dropped to his knees. He closed his eyes and began a slow, melodic chant in the ancient Samesinian language. He sent words of need and besought to the heavens, praying that the rogue winds would not intercept his message to Laya. He needed her help, and only she could aid him with absconding his predicament.
   
    No answer came back to him. Lyle carried on the chant to Laya, despite the fact that he was freezing, and the frigid tempest of torturous intentions was relentless. Tears began to well in his eyes as the light of hope grew dimmer and dimmer. He wiped his eyes with one quaking hand, but his chant eluded his mouth choked with sorrow. As he wiped away several more tears, the tempest of torturous intentions became even more torturous as a bombardment of hailstones descended upon the shivering prince. The tiny bullets of ice struck Lyle and made him wince.
   
    Yet still, no answer came from Laya. Lyle began to weep bitterly, and because of the chilly temperatures, his tears froze and formed an icy mask on his face. His teeth chattered and his breaths became quicker and shallower. He rubbed his hands up and down his arms to try and warm himself. The strange warming in his blood seemed to have stopped, because he felt no warmth pumping through his veins.
   
    "Laya! Hear me!" Lyle cried, before he drew his legs up to his chest and tried to trap a tiny amount of heat in his body. As he began to feel tired and sick, he heard a faint thread of sound in his mind.
   
    Lyle, you will freeze to death. Get out of there. The voice was female, filled with concern, and not a voice that Lyle recognised. He tried to focus on the speaker, but it turned out she was telepathic. There was no way that Lyle could focus on her.
   
    "I'm hearing things..." Lyle mumbled through his chattering teeth. He rubbed his hands together and blew on them to try and warm them up. He thought the female voice was just an auditory hallucination.
   
    I am sorry I did not listen to you the first time. I am failing my own people. The female voice was a soothing balm in Lyle's mind.
   
    "Who is that?" Lyle was unsure if the female voice was real, but he believed it was, and hoped that it was enough to help him fight away the hailstones that battered him remorselessly from all angles, which were backed by the ferocious and chilling winds.
   
    I am Laya. You prayed for my help, remember? A small smile tugged at Lyle's lips. He was grateful for hearing Laya's voice, but what had taken her so long to reply?
   
    "I don't get this... my cousin, she's..." Lyle began, but conversation was a huge effort in such frigid temperatures.
   
    You must mean Maia. She is alive and well, but I fear she will not be well for much longer. She is to be married to Prince Rhys of Landen tomorrow morning. He is an Orakian prince, and he has no right to marry one of my people. Lyle heard the trace of disgust in Laya's telepathic voice.
   
    "But how... can't get... there..." the young prince managed to stammer.
   
    Do you not know, Lyle? You are one of my people, and one of the few members of the Layan royal families alive. All male Layan royals have the hidden power of the Dragon Knight. You should know this.
   
    "Laya... I only... found out... my father..." Lyle felt as though the tempest of torturous intentions was trying to seal his mouth shut with its frigid winds and its torrents of hailstones attacking him. He was finding it more difficult to speak with each passing minute.
   
    Then your father has not carried out my wishes as I had laid them out in the Tome of Layan Lore. You should have first heard of your hidden Dragon Knight ability when you were six years old. That is how I instructed it within the Tome. He has only told you now... how old are you, Lyle? Laya's voice made small streaks of warmth course through Lyle, and it helped him feel warmer, even if he felt like he would freeze to death.
   
    "I'm... I'm sixteen..." the young prince answered faintly. He heard Laya's replying gasp in his head.
   
    So he has held this a secret from you for ten years longer than he should have done. Then you have no idea what to do, do you? I can help you utilise the power of the Dragon Knight.
   
    "Laya... I can't..." Lyle was freezing; cold to his very soul. He was using all his energies to keep warm, and he couldn't afford to expend any energy on trying to utilise the power of the Dragon Knight, as Laya had said.
   
    There is heat in your body, can you not feel it? That heat means your inner dragon is coming to attention. Do not lose control now, Lyle. Focus your mind on humanity. If your inner dragon takes control, you will transform into a great dragon. Laya was speaking to Lyle in a rhythmic, mesmerising voice, and the heat she had mentioned was beginning to spread around his body. He was no longer shivering; and the tempest of torturous intentions was now much less torturous.
   
    "Is it... is it working?" Lyle asked tentatively.
   
    Yes, you know how to control your inner dragon when you do not need its power. When you let go of that control, you will transform as soon as the dragon gains enough control within you. Laya's voice still held that mesmerising pitch, but her voice was fading.
   
    "Laya, you're not sounding clear to me. But how will I turn back into a human?"
   
    Laya let out a laugh, and the sound was music in his mind. Lyle, you are half-dragon, half-human. When you wish to resume human form, picture yourself as you are now. Your dragon half will stand down and allow you to resume your current form. Although, there is a way you can use the dragon's power without fully transforming... and then her voice faded.
   
    "Laya, what is it? Tell me, please!" Lyle cried, but there was no reply for several moments. The silence left an unbearable ache in his heart.
   
    I... I am struggling to keep my mental link with you. You can use the power of dragon flight without fully transforming, but this involves a great amount of mental discipline. You must allow your inner dragon a small semblance of control, but do not let this be too much. Now I must leave you. There are secrets which you can discover for yourself. Farewell, Lyle! Laya's voice faded again.
   
    "Laya, wait!" Lyle called, but this time Laya did not reply. He was on his own, with only his wits and a power he had never used before to combat the tempest of torturous intentions.



* * *


Lyle was completely alone. The telepathic voice of Laya no longer sounded in his mind, and his head was flooded with new information. The heat coursing in his veins reminded him of his inner dragon's presence.
   
    "OK, here goes." the young prince said sotto voce. He closed his eyes and allowed his inner dragon to take control, but he bore in mind that he couldn't allow his inner dragon much control. As the dragon gained some dominance, Lyle felt a curious pain down his spine, and as he looked behind him, a huge pair of brown dragon wings were forming. Once the wings had formed completely, Lyle jumped upwards. He was supposed to fly, so how come he wasn't flying? A familiar voice flooded his mind with its soothing pitch.
   
    You have still not perfected the art of the Dragon Knight, have you not? It was Laya's voice. Lyle felt a small smile tug at the corner of his mouth as the soft voice brushed in his mind.
   
    "How can I fly? I can't flap these wings, so how can I..." Lyle began, but Laya hushed him.
   
    I forgot to mention this, but your inner dragon will not listen to your commands. As far as it is concerned, it is the dominant party. You will need something to tell it that you are the dominant party... that is, your human half is the dominant half. Laya explained. Before Lyle could ask how, she continued to speak. Look at the ground in front of you. What do you see?
   
    "Ice." Lyle replied simply.
   
    Look closer. Now what do you see?
   
    "Nothing but ice and frozen grass." Lyle stopped for a moment, then looked again. "Isn't that... a branch of a Samesinian pine tree?"
   
    That is your key.
   
    At the sound of the ridiculous comment Laya had said, Lyle nearly laughed out loud. But he was well-mannered, so instead he cleared his throat. "And how does this allow me to tell my dragon half that I'm the boss? It's just a branch of Samesinian pine!"
   
    It is more than just a branch of Samesinian pine, Lyle. Pick it up and take an even closer look at it. Lyle acted as Laya had instructed and picked up the long branch which was slightly kinked in three places. He noticed that there was a large emerald set in one end of it.
   
    "And this is...?" Lyle inquired.
   
    It is the Supremacy Staff, and one of the last real weapons of my people. It is only touchable by those chosen to be Dragon Knights, and that is because it allows your human half to dominate over your dragon half. As long as the Supremacy Staff is in your hand, your inner dragon will recognise your human half as dominant. Laya explained. Her voice then began to dissipate.
   
    "Laya, wait!" Lyle called, but Laya did not reply. He still had the dragon wings, so he gripped the Supremacy Staff tightly and jumped into the air. Instantly the great dragon wings unfolded and flapped against the frigid air, pushing Lyle higher into the sky. As he got used to his new-found abilities, euphoria washed over him and he felt free, as if no-one could tie him down any more. But as he flew around, getting used to the feeling, his mind steeled on the task in hand. Maia is in danger, and she has to be rescued.
   
    Lyle gained a few hundred feet more of altitude, then he soared towards the Chalst Province, the central province of Samesina. He headed towards Landen Castle, and he felt the air getting warmer. Before he got there, he landed on the ground and uttered a short command. The dragon wings dissipated and surrounded him with wisps of brown fog. He began to walk into the town of Landen, but someone stopped him.
   
    "What are you doing here, stranger?" the person asked.
   
    "I'm here for the wedding. I heard that Prince Rhys was getting married, so I wanted to see." Lyle replied coolly. He did not reveal his true intentions to the stranger.
   
    "Where do you come from?"
   
    "The Helskiz Province, from Sh--" Lyle stopped. If he said he came from Shusoran, the stranger would know for sure he was Layan. Instead he told the stranger he was from Rysel, a small fishing village on the Helskiz Province mainland, and the only Orakian dwelling in the entire province.
   
    "You're too nicely dressed to be from Rysel." the stranger pointed out.
   
    "Yeah, whilst it's true I'm not exactly living in poverty, my family decided to move to the village when I was 10. Nice people." Lyle lied quickly. He was used to lying to people; he had done it several times to sneak out of Shusoran Castle when he was younger.
   
    "Alright, come on. I'll show you to Landen Castle." The stranger took Lyle's hand and led him to the grand castle of Landen, which was where the wedding was taking place. As Lyle crossed the threshold, he felt his inner dragon struggling for dominance. He maintained his control easily with the Supremacy Staff in his hand. He walked towards the spacious throne room with the stranger, just as the wedding ceremony was about to begin.
   
    "Now remember, don't show yourself up." the stranger whispered. Lyle gave a slight scowl in reply, but he looked on as Maia was led towards the King of Landen by Prince Rhys.
   
    "An absolutely superlative day for a wedding, do you not think?" Prince Rhys asked the gathering of people in the throne room. Everyone shouted their agreement except Lyle, who just nodded. His eyes narrowed slightly.
   
    "People of Landen, and people from all over Samesina! I give you... the marriage of Prince Rhys and Princess Maia!" called the King's chief servant, who was also responsible for the organisation of the event. From within the crowd, Lyle's eyes narrowed more and his face began to crease with anger. His mouth drew back into a slight snarl.
   
    "Please, do continue with the ceremony. I would rather be wed to the beautiful Maia before the sun sets on this glorious day!" urged Prince Rhys. His words only made Lyle angrier. He growled under his breath and watched as the Orakian prince took Maia's dainty hand.
   
    "You OK? You sound like you've swallowed a lion." the stranger asked Lyle.
   
    "I'm fine..." the young prince replied agitatedly. He looked on as Prince Rhys said his vows to Maia and put a gold ring on her slim finger. This time Lyle could hold back no longer. He stormed towards Rhys, his finger outstretched towards him and his face a mask of rage.
   
    "Stop the wedding! Stop this nonsense right now!" he yelled, motioning to the King's chief servant. Prince Rhys looked at Lyle, running a white gloved hand through his short ocean-blue hair. He smoothed down his blue shirt and his navy trousers. He made sure his white cloak was in position before he retaliated.
   
    "Something a problem, sir?" Rhys asked in a tentative voice.
   
    "Yeah. You!" growled Lyle in reply. His green eyes glittered with menace.
   
    "And I am the problem? Why do you utter this nonsense?"
   
    "You're about to marry my cousin! She doesn't deserve you!" As Lyle spoke these words, he trembled with rage and fury. He banged the Supremacy Staff on the floor, and the noise startled Rhys.
   
    "I love her with all my heart. She was washed up on the shore near Landen, and she was incredibly grateful for my help." Rhys's voice was unusually calm considering the fact that Lyle was raging at him.
   
    "That's not reason enough to marry her, though!" snapped Lyle indignantly.
   
    "Stop this bickering at once!" the King of Landen boomed. He stood up from his throne and addressed the crowd. "I'm awfully sorry you are having to witness this, good people, but I believe the young man who is yelling at Prince Rhys is mistaken. Princess Maia does not have a cousin."
   
    "Oh yeah? You check that with the King of Cille!" Lyle yelled uncontrollably. Everyone in the room let out a simultaneous gasp.
   
    "The King of Cille?" everyone asked together.
   
    "Cille! I know that place, but I can't remember..." Maia spoke for the first time since she had started reciting her vows to Prince Rhys.
   
    "You brainwashed her! You pathetic prince!" Lyle thundered. He pointed the Supremacy Staff at Rhys threateningly.
   
    "She did not remember anything but her name when I found her. You should know Orakians cannot brainwash people. Why, brainwashing someone is a callous act of indecency!" Rhys replied, his voice beginning to show signs of agitation.
   
    "Then you've just admitted that you're callous and indecent." Lyle answered back, but his voice was much calmer. Before Rhys could reply, the King of Landen began to speak.
   
    "This King of Cille you mentioned... you don't mean King Ramond of Cille, by any chance?" he asked.
   
    "That's him! He was looking for Maia, and so was the King of Shusoran!" Lyle replied.
   
    "Impossible. You say you are from Rysel, yet you know about the dreaded Layan lands of Cille and Shusoran. Are you really from Rysel, or are you one of... one of them?" Rhys inquired.
   
    "I am from Rysel, I just happen to spy around Layan lands." Lyle lied. No-one was convinced. All eyes turned to face the young Layan prince.
   
    "Preposterous! Reveal your true identity at once!" Rhys unsheathed a hunting knife and bared the point at Lyle. The young prince took a step back.
   
    "Alright, you win." Lyle said. He headed for the small platform next to the King's throne and got up on it.
   
    "Well then, reveal yourself!" the King ordered.
   
    Lyle cleared his throat. "I'm Prince Lyle of Shusoran! And I'm here to stop my cousin Maia being married to that dirty Orakian, Prince Rhys!" he yelled. The crowd gasped again.
   
    "Seize him at once!" the King adjured. Several guards pounced on Lyle, but he charged up his staff and sent them all to the ground with a Zan Technique. The electrical frazzling noise startled the other guards, who backed away.
   
    "He is definitely Layan! Stop him immediately!" Rhys yelled over the pandemonium that had ensued. People ran around the castle in a panic, and guards tried to bring order to the disjointed crowds. During the confusion, Lyle had snuck into the basement of the castle and began to call his inner dragon to attention. He felt a curious shifting as his physical form vaporised and reformed into a huge brown dragon. When the transformation was complete, Lyle flew out of the basement and crashed through some of the floor.
   
    "A dragon?!" one guard gasped.
   
    "These Layans are malevolent creatures!" Rhys cried. He looked on as the dragon swooped down and grabbed Maia in its wickedly curved clawed hands. The princess screamed and tried to wriggle free, her long, turquoise-blue hair fluttering around her as she did so.
   
    "Stop that creature at once!" the King ordered.
   
    "Help me, Rhys!" Maia shrieked hoarsely. Rhys ran towards her and leapt towards the dragon.
   
    "You won't have her back, Orakio-lover!" the dragon snarled, flying upwards, but Rhys had caught hold of its tail. The Orakian prince hung on to the scaly whip-like tail with all his strength as the dragon soared even higher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART I: Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

"Please, Rhys! Hang on!" Maia called from in the dragon's grip. She would have tried to wriggle free, but she was very high in the sky, and if the dragon lost its grip on her, she would fall to her death.
   
    "Maia, this is certainly an odious predicament. I cannot let go, for I will surely perish if I do so!" Rhys replied. His arms were fatigued from holding onto the dragon's thick, whip-like tail, but there was no other course of action. He then realised they were descending. The dragon swooped down towards a small island and placed Maia on the ground. Rhys let go of its tail just before it had landed. It began to slowly fly away from the twosome.
   
    "Where is that foul creature headed?" Rhys asked.
   
    "I don't know. It takes us from Landen and dumps us here? I don't get it." replied Maia quietly. She reached out and took Rhys's hand in one of her own. As the two of them were about to kiss, Lyle appeared from behind a tree.
   
    "Don't... touch her..." he said disgustedly. The Supremacy Staff was in his right hand, and the emerald glittered in the twilight of the sunset.
   
    "You again! You ruined my wedding, and now you dump us here? What sort of cad are you?" Rhys demanded.
   
    "Look, drop the attitude, yeah? I might talk to you if you're nice." Lyle replied. He took several steps towards Rhys and ushered him away from Maia.
   
    "Very well." Rhys was repulsed with being ordered around by a Layan. He forced himself to remain calm, for he had already seen Lyle's angry side, and that was one side of the young Layan prince he did not want to see again. He began to speak. "So you are Prince Lyle of Shusoran, am I correct?"
   
    "Yeah. And you're Prince Rhys of Landen."
   
    "Indeed." Rhys let out a long sigh, then asked what Maia had to do with the current situation.
   
    "An Orakian wouldn't understand." was Lyle's reply.
   
    "Even a devout Layan like yourself can see that even though I am Orakian, I am not as puerile as you may think." Rhys explained.
   
    "Drop the fancy attitude, Rhys. Get a grip."
   
    "Oh, Lyle, do leave him alone about that." Maia said to the young Layan prince. Lyle sighed.
   
    "So tell me, Lyle. Why did you bring us to this desolate island?" Rhys asked.
   
    "I need to make a confession..." Lyle began, but a strange stirring in his mind prevented him from continuing.
   
    Confessing to the enemies of my people is fruitless. It will solve nothing. It was the voice of Laya. She was angered at the fact that Lyle was about to make a confession to Prince Rhys. Lyle was about to reply to her, but he realised he couldn't do that out loud. He thought of what he wanted to say to her, then he said it in his mind.
   
    I've just ruined his big day, Laya. How can I not tell him why I did it?
   
    He is an Orakian, and a very devout follower too. You will not get through to him. You are his enemy, first and foremost, and that way it shall remain. Laya was firm.
   
    "Lyle, is something troubling you? Is that why you must confess?" Rhys inquired tentatively.
   
    "Yeah, it is... But I..." Before Lyle could finish, he heard Laya's protest drumming in his head.
   
    You cannot confess to your enemy! Whether you must confess or not, you must not confess it to an Orakian!
   
    Lyle thought for several brief moments. I don't like this enemy thing. Maybe I could bridge the gap.
   
    "Lyle, are you... are you OK?" Maia asked carefully. She placed a hand on the young Layan prince's arm. A few tears sprang in his eyes.
   
    "Tell us what you need to confess, please." Rhys said calmly. Lyle cleared his throat, but as he was about to make his confession, he heard Laya's protest in his head. He tried not to respond to it.
   
    "OK, here goes. I did this because my father, the King of Shusoran, told me that King Ramond of Cille was worried about his daughter, Maia. I didn't realise you loved her so much." When Lyle had finished speaking, tears welled in his eyes. Maia put an arm around him and helped him to a rock so he could sit down.
   
    "Well, you could always take her back to Cille, then explain to King Ramond about this." Rhys suggested hopefully.
   
    "It's not that simple..." Lyle sighed, wiping several stray tears away with one hand. Then he heard Laya's soothing voice in his subconscious. Her tone was much more reassuring, and one that said that she had understood about Lyle's hatred of the enmity between the Orakians and Layans.
   
    If your Orakian companion enters the castle of Cille, he is signing his own death warrant. He cannot go.
   
    "How is it not as simple as that?" Rhys asked.
   
    "Well, first of all, King Ramond doesn't like Orakians, period. You're pretty much signing your own death warrant if you go in there." Lyle replied.
   
    "I am prepared to gamble with my life."
   
    "Don't say that!" Maia shrieked. Before the conversation could continue any further, a small missile of cold wind shot past Lyle, who shivered slightly.
   
    "It grows colder. What is happening?" Rhys asked, unpinning his cloak and wrapping it around himself.
   
    "The Helskiz Province froze over as I was heading out. Not a clue what happened, though." Lyle replied, rubbing his hands up and down his arms to warm himself. Rhys raised an eyebrow to the young Layan prince's actions.
   
    "You are Layan, are you not? Surely you know of a technique that can keep us warm?" he inquired.
   
    "There is the Foi Technique, but that shoots out a fireball. It wouldn't work." Just before Rhys could inquire further, another blast of frigid wind caught Maia and lifted her up into the sky.
   
    "Rhys, help me!" she shrieked. Rhys looked up and saw that the wind was carrying her towards a belt of trees several hundred miles away.
   
    "Such malevolent weather today! What is causing this... this vile tempest?!" the Orakian prince said in exasperation. Lyle looked up to the sky and saw that Maia was being blown away from the two princes as if she were a feather.
   
    "No idea. Looks like Maia's heading for the Frigidia Province, judging by the direction she's being taken." Lyle replied confidently, but inside he was unsure. He couldn't afford to make wild judgments.
   
    "The Frigidia Province?! Then that explains the gelid nature of the tempest!" deduced Rhys suddenly. Then his face fell. "But how are we to get there? All terrain to the Frigidia Province is impassable, unless..." -- here Rhys snapped his fingers -- "We could use your ability to turn into a dragon, Lyle!"
   
    "I don't like it. It makes me do stuff I wouldn't normally do." Lyle said sadly.
   
    "Nonsense! Can you please use it once more, for my sake? We will never reach Maia unless we try!"
   
    "But it's just that... well, I kidnap people as a dragon, and..." Lyle saw that Rhys was not to be swayed. He let out a long sigh. "OK, but if you see me doing anything wrong, tell me, yeah?"
   
    "Certainly." Rhys said. He strode up to a group of shrubs to give Lyle some room.



* * *


"I just hope this will work..." Rhys wondered, as he trudged aimlessly around a gathering of green shrubs. Five minutes later, he heard a sound.
   
    "OK, I'm ready." called a gruff voice.
   
    "Is that you, Lyle? As the dragon?" the Orakian prince asked.
   
    "Yeah."
   
    "Then are we ready? Let us go!" Rhys walked over to the large brown dragon, which picked him up in its clawed hands and placed him on its scaly back. The dragon then unfurled its huge wings and took to the sky. Trees rustled as the great creature beat its wings and flew higher still.
   
    "Can you see the Frigidia Province?" Rhys asked when they were several thousand feet in the air.
   
    "I see it." the dragon replied. It soared across the Charidian Mountains, the mountain range that separates the Chalst Province from the Frigidia Province. As the wind rushed past them, Rhys felt exhilarated.
   
    "This is simply stupendous! I didn't realise riding a dragon would be such fun!" he gasped.
   
    "Do you want to rescue Maia or what? Or do I have to listen to you getting overexcited?" the dragon grumbled.
   
    "I am sorry. It is just a new experience for me, that is all." Rhys replied as the dragon descended into the Frigidia Province and landed. It moved away from Rhys and went behind a group of snow-capped hills. The Orakian prince shivered and looked around.
   
    "I see nothing but snow and fog." he said. He began to wade through the knee-deep sea of snow, using his arm to shield his face from the torrents of white flakes that blew in his direction. His fringe was thrown in his face by rogue gusts of cold wind, and at times he was almost blown backwards by the frigid blasts that occurred. Rhys stopped for a moment to huddle against his cloak to try and warm up, but as he was about to set off, he was impacted in the back by something cold.
   
    "Who did that?!" Rhys asked, looking around frantically, but he saw no-one. Another cold, hard thing hit him; this time on the back of his neck.
   
    "Stop this stupidity at once!" he ordered, but then he realised there was no-one to order around. He turned to look behind him, but a snowball hit him full in the face.
   
    "Got you!" yelled a voice. Rhys spat out a mouthful of snow.
   
    "Cad! This is no time for games!" he growled. He looked to his right and saw that Lyle was stood there.
   
    "Loosen up, Rhys! Let's have a bit of fun, yeah?" the young Layan prince asked. Rhys almost laughed.
   
    "Lyle, you said that I should hurry along and stop getting overexcited about riding a dragon, and here you are, suggesting we should have a snowball fight! Your mind works in such a strange manner." he said.
   
    "Well, Rhys... maybe we should--" Lyle began, but a stirring in his subconscious stopped him midsentence. It was the voice of Laya.
   
    Maia is one of my people, Lyle. You are trying to play around when she is in danger? Your Orakian companion is right - your mind really does work in a strange manner.
   
    "Maybe we should what?" Rhys inquired. There was a pause. Lyle thought about what Laya had said before he answered.
   
    "Maybe we should rescue Maia, then we'll have a snowball fight after. Sound cool?"
   
    "Agreed. Let us make our way across this frozen wasteland." Rhys led the way, looking around frequently. He tried to see if there was anything that would help them find Maia, but it was to no avail. They trudged through miles upon miles of seemingly endless snow and thick fog, wondering if they were even going in a straight line or if they were just going in circles. Just as it seemed that the situation was hopeless, Rhys spotted something stuck in the snow.
   
    "Look at this..." he called, but the cold was making it hard for him to speak. Lyle made his way over as quickly as his legs could manage; the temperature was making them feel like lead.
   
    "What... is it?" the young Layan prince asked. He looked closely at what Rhys had pointed out. It was a piece of pale blue material. As the two princes looked around for any other similar scraps of material, the snow seemed to stop. Rhys looked up at the clouded sky. The temperature seemed to increase slightly.
   
    "How unusual. It has stopped snowing." he said monotonously.
   
    "Can we not worry about the weather?" Lyle was agitated. As he was about to drag Rhys in the direction he thought was straight ahead, he felt a drop of cold water plink onto his arm. Several more drops followed, until the two princes were caught in an unpleasantly cold rainstorm. As the rain drizzled down, Lyle pulled Rhys in the direction of a huge Samesinian pine tree.
   
    "So what piques your interest concerning this uninteresting tree?" the Orakian prince asked as Lyle dragged him towards the tree, which was now dripping with rainwater. A passing breeze made something in the branches flutter. It was another piece of pale blue material. Lyle pointed it out to Rhys.
   
    "These scraps of material... is it a trail, I wonder?" he asked.
   
    "It seems like it." Lyle replied, and the two prince scarried on making their way through the snow, which was now pitted where the rainwater had hit it. Overhead, the weather took another turn and a small bullet of ice struck Rhys on the back of the neck.
   
    "Hailstones!" he said. Rhys took Lyle's arm, and together they darted towards another scrap of the pale blue material they had seen. They noticed that the pieces were closer and closer together, and that they were leading to a cave. The top of the rock was caked in snow. The hailstones attacked Rhys and Lyle as they inspected the cave.
   
    "We'd better go inside." Lyle suggested. They entered the cave and noticed that it was quite a bit warmer. The roof of the cave protected them from the onslaught of relentless hailstones and sent them ricocheting elsewhere. Strangely, the cave was brightly lit, but neither Rhys nor Lyle could see any trace of any light source. They scanned the cave interior, looking for anything - or anyone - that might help, but they saw no-one.
   
    "Hello? Is someone there?" a female voice called. Rhys and Lyle looked at each other.
   
    "It could be Maia!" they said together. Rhys explored several networks of tunnels, whilst Lyle looked around the more open spaces of the cave. They searched, scoured and explored, but they could not find the owner of the voice.
   
    "Where are you?" Rhys called.
   
    "Over here!" the voice replied. It had come from a narrow gap, just big enough for Lyle to squeeze through. The young Layan prince negotiated the gap and saw the owner of the voice. She was a tall, curvy woman with bright red hair and full lips. Her eyes were a fiery orange colour, and her skin was fair. She was not dressed particularly well for someone in the Frigidia Province, instead she wore a red leotard and a pair of knee-high red boots, and the left one had a pair of gloves tucked into it. Lyle noticed that the tips of the fingers were shiny, but he did not comment on it.
   
    "Thanks for coming." she said, but it was not Maia. Her voice was lower-pitched and was more heavily accented.
   
    "Who are you?" Lyle asked. He rested a hand on the woman's shoulder, and it felt as cold as ice. "You're freezing cold! How long have you been here?"
   
    "I am not human." she replied.
   
    "We have been mislead!" Rhys said from the other side of the wall.
   
    "Who just spoke then?" the woman asked Lyle. He cleared his throat.
   
    "That was Prince Rhys of Landen speaking just then." he replied.
   
    "I see." Her full lips creased into a slight smile. "Prince Rhys of Landen?" she echoed.
   
    "Yeah. That's right."
   
    "He's an Orakian prince, right?"
   
    "Yeah." The woman winked at him cheekily, then she squeezed through the gap to greet Rhys. At first he was surprised.
   
    "How come you did not introduce yourself to my friend?" he asked.
   
    "Your friend is Layan, and I am programmed not to form alliances with Layans." she replied.
   
    "But who are you?"
   
    "I am a cyborg, designation Mieu type. I am trained in martial arts and healing techniques. You may address me as 'Mieu'." Before Rhys could say anything more to Mieu, he caught sight of Lyle squeezing out of the gap. Mieu turned round and saw him too.
   
    "Come now, Lyle, stop acting like a fool." Rhys said, helping Lyle out of the gap. As the two princes walked over to Mieu, she folded her arms and glared at Lyle with her fiery eyes.
   
    "He is Layan." she said monotonously.
   
    "I know that, Mieu. But he is helping me retrieve my wife-to-be, Princess Maia." Rhys said agitatedly.
   
    "Yeah. She's a nice girl, with turquoise blue hair and she's wearing a pale blue dress." Lyle explained.
   
    "I see." Mieu looked more closely at Rhys, who instinctively leaned backwards. She leaned towards his ear and whispered "I know where Maia is. But I won't tell you until you help me do something." Rhys let out an audible gasp.
   
    "Very well, Mieu. What do you wish me and my friend to do?" the Orakian prince asked.
   
    "There's a treasure hidden in a cave in the Helskiz Province, and I need your help to get it." Mieu replied. She pulled her boots up and adjusted the straps of her leotard.
   
    "We will do it." Rhys said, before Lyle could add a word on the matter. Mieu strode out of the cave, and the two princes followed her back into the bitter coldness of the Frigidia Province.



* * *


Mieu, followed by Rhys and Lyle, trudged through the snow in the aptly named Frigidia Province. The two princes did not know where Maia was, but Mieu did, and she wasn't going to give them the information easily. The threesome made their way towards a steep, snow-capped hill and began to climb it. Mieu bounded up the hill with little effort.
   
    "Showoff." Lyle grumbled under his breath as he grabbed hold of a tuft of snow-covered grass to aid his climb. He hauled himself up the hill, which got increasingly difficult as he grew colder.
   
    "This is horrendous. Absolutely abhorrent!" Rhys scowled, hoisting himself up the frozen incline. Both of the princes found it a difficult climb, not only because it was freezing cold, but also because their makeshift handholds were also freezing cold. This frigid combination was both chilling and strength-diminishing.
   
    "Hurry up, you two!" Mieu called from the top of the hill. The two princes found this annoying, not just because they were tired, but also because they couldn't climb very fast. Eventually they reached the top of the hill, but Mieu was not happy. She merely marched down the hill in silence as the two princes followed her. The weather began to warm up overhead; the chilling gales calmed to gentle breezes, and the torrents of hailstones eased off. As they were about to set foot into the Helskiz Province, Lyle began to speak.
   
    "Mieu, we can't go to the Helskiz Province yet." he said. Mieu faced him.
   
    "And why not? You're stopping your friend from rescuing his bride-to-be!" she replied. Before Lyle could speak, he heard Laya's telepathic voice in his mind.
   
    As I know, the Helskiz Province is frozen over. Tell your new companion that there is a Weather Station within the Bernink Province. Alas, I do not know where. Maybe try asking around the cyborg town of Hazatak.
   
    "Well? Why shouldn't we head for the Helskiz Province now, huh?" Mieu asked in an impertinent tone.
   
    "The entire province is frozen over. We're better off heading for the Bernink Province. There's a Weather Station there." Lyle replied. He wanted to point out to Mieu that she had been rude to him with her intonation, but he was well-mannered.
   
    "How do you know about that? Only technician cyborgs know about that."
   
    "The voice in my head told me." Lyle wasn't far off with his answer.
   
    "In that case, we had better make haste. To the Bernink Province!" Rhys announced. Just as he was about to set off, Mieu stopped him.
   
    "Prince Rhys, it isn't in our best interests to just charge through the Bernink Province." she said.
   
    "And why is that?" the Orakian prince asked sharply.
   
    "You should know that the Bernink Province is an inhospitable desert, not suited for human life. If we are to go there, you and your friend should prepare."
   
    "We do not have time for preparations. Our only chance is to go now." When Rhys had finished speaking, Mieu sighed deeply and shook her head. She was not happy with Rhys's decision, but she did not want to argue with him. The threesome began to head towards the Bernink Province, and as they crossed the provincial border, the temperature made a sudden and unpleasant rise.
   
    "What is happening?!" Rhys asked in horror as he wiped several beads of sweat from his forehead.
   
    "This is the Bernink Province, and it is not intended for humans, as I have said." Mieu replied. She began to walk ahead of the two princes. Lyle looked around the Bernink Province, but he saw nothing but sand dunes. The horizon appeared to shimmer before his eyes, and the heat was becoming increasingly unbearable.
   
    "We'd better hurry before we collapse." the young Layan prince suggested. He shackled Rhys's wrist and hurried the Orakian prince through the desert. The two of them charged through the sand dunes, always following Mieu, but soon they began to slow. The heat was stifling, and the two princes found it energy-sapping. Their bodies felt weak, and they were both dizzy and sick.
   
    "Are you two OK?" Mieu called when she saw that the two princes were not moving.
   
    "Yeah. We're fine." Lyle replied, but he knew all too well that he and Rhys were not fine. They were exhausted, sweating, and feeling very very sick. The heat had taken its toll on the two of them.
   
    "You don't sound fine. Are you sure you're OK?" Mieu's voice was filled with concern for the two princes.
   
    "No. This loathsome heat is causing us some problems!" Rhys replied, only just managing to get his words out. Mieu ran over to the two princes and helped them to their feet. She supported them as the threesome made their way over more featureless sand dunes. The Bernink Province seemed endless.
   
    "Are we... anywhere near Hazatak?" Lyle asked wearily.
   
    "Hazatak? Where is that?" Rhys asked Lyle. The young Layan prince was too dazed from the heat to manage a reply. Mieu answered the question for him.
   
    "Hazatak is a small cyborg town in the centre of the Bernink Province. If we head there we should be able to get directions to the Weather Station, and a place for you two to get some food, drink and rest." she explained. Rhys nodded weakly in acknowledgement and let his head fall on Mieu's shoulder. Lyle let his head fall on Mieu's other shoulder. The two princes were too drained of energy to move themselves. Mieu let out a small sigh and hurried the two effete princes in the direction of Hazatak, which at the moment was just a solid blob on the shimmering horizon.
   
    An hour dragged on, and Mieu was closer to Hazatak. The limp forms of Rhys and Lyle were supported by her arms as she strode through the desert with a vigour the two princes could only dream of. She ploughed through the heat, making her way swiftly towards Hazatak with the two princes in tow. The town was now much clearer, and Mieu could make out the outlines of several buildings.
   
    Eventually she made it to Hazatak, and she took the two princes to a small house near the edge of the town. A tall male cyborg took them in and told Mieu that he would make sure they recovered from the scorching heat whilst she inquired about the Weather Station.
   
    Mieu walked up to the town square, stopping passing cyborgs to ask them if they knew anything about the Weather Station. None of them had any apparent knowledge, but as she was about to give up and go elsewhere, she was beckoned to the Hazatak Tavern by a cyborg she did not recognise. At first she was reluctant, but her curiosity gave way and she followed the cyborg into the tavern.
   
    "Where are we going?" Mieu asked.
   
    "This way." the cyborg replied. His voice was deep yet held the semblance of infinite knowledge. Mieu could not see what he looked like until they came to a small table lit by a small lamp that gave off a warm golden glow. She noticed that he was wearing a black and silver suit of armour and that he had short black hair that spiked up in places. His eyes were dark, yet they glowed with deep compassion. He laced his fingers together and looked Mieu in the eye.
   
    "So you are looking for the Weather Station." he said in a low tone. Mieu nodded, too entranced by the smoothness of his voice to speak.
   
    "I know what you seek." The cyborg's dark gaze flickered around the room, then finally settled on Mieu. She flicked a lock of her bright red hair behind her ear before she spoke.
   
    "Who are you? I'm Mieu." she said uneasily.
   
    "I am Wren, a technical systems specialist. And I know where the Weather Station is." Wren replied in his silky smooth tone. Mieu was compelled by the pitch.
   
    "Can you take us to it?" she asked.
   
    "Us, you say, Mieu? Why, I only see you sat on the opposite side."
   
    "I've got two companions, Wren. They're humans." When Mieu had finished speaking, Wren leaned forward. His gaze darted to his right for a brief second, then re-focused on Mieu's fiery eyes.
   
    "Humans." he repeated solemnly. There was a brief silence. "Mieu, these humans you speak of... where are they?" he asked.
   
    "They're in Carl's house. Carl was the cyborg who took them in and is looking after them." Mieu replied. Wren gave her a disapproving look.
   
    "Humans should not be here. But I will see about this with my own two eyes." Wren stood up from the chair and began to walk out of the tavern with an air of grace and confidence. Mieu also stood up and followed him outside. As they headed to Carl's house, they noticed that Carl was stood outside. He had a pained expression on his face.
   
    "Mieu!" he called.
   
    "What is it?" she asked.
   
    "Those two you brought in... they're not in good shape. They don't remember anything of what they're doing or why they're here." Carl's voice was as pained as his expression as he ushered Mieu and Wren into his house.
   
    "What do you mean?" Mieu asked tentatively.
   
    "You think their exposure to the heat has caused amnesia?" Wren phrased his question carefully. Carl nodded slowly when Wren had finished speaking.
   
    "How bad is it?" Mieu was almost too afraid to ask.
   
    "Uh, you really don't want me to explain." Carl said in a lamentable tone.



* * *


Lyle tried to open his eyes. He tried to force his way up through the layers of drowsiness, but they pinned him down, like a hunter capturing his prey. He rolled to one side and blinked rapidly, but his head still felt like it was full of cobwebs. Slowly his bleary vision corrected itself, and the young Layan prince found himself looking at a whitewashed ceiling. Had his experiences in the Bernink Province all been in his head, and he was still freezing to death in the Frigidia Province? He could not be sure. His head felt too fuzzy to think straight.
   
    Are you OK, Lyle? You seem... unlike yourself. asked the tentative voice of Laya in Lyle's subconscious. The young Layan prince blinked rapidly and rubbed his head with one hand.
   
    "Who was that?" he asked in a weak voice. He turned his head and saw Rhys, who was equally dazed and confused. The Orakian prince raked his ocean-blue hair absent-mindedly and shook his head. Even Rhys wondered if this terrible heat and their trek through the Bernink Province had all been some wild hallucination. The Orakian prince slowly turned his head and his eyes met Lyle's.
   
    "Who are you?" Rhys asked cautiously.
   
    "I was about to ask you the same thing!" Lyle replied with a gasp. Next to where the two princes were lying, Mieu was stood beside them, looking at Rhys, then at Lyle. Her fiery eyes shimmered with concern.
   
    "I see what you meant when you said this was bad, Carl." she said. She flicked back a few locks of her bright red hair and walked over to Carl.
   
    "They've forgotten everything. Maybe the heat..." Carl began, but he was silenced by Wren. The other male cyborg regarded Carl with dark and slightly ominous gaze.
   
    "Mieu is already troubled by this. Do not cause her more concern than you already have." he said with a slight lacing of menace to his tone.
   
    "Wren, what was Carl going to tell me?" Mieu asked carefully, "What's wrong with Rhys and Lyle?"
   
    "They have total amnesia, which is very common among humans who dare to venture these hot barren wastelands. They have basically forgotten everything that they know." replied Wren in a monotone.
   
    "What are we supposed to do, Wren? Can it be cured?"
   
    "Mieu! Calm yourself. Total amnesia can only be cured if you say something that has special meaning to the person in question. But because the two of them were affected at the same time, this something of special meaning must be common to both of them." When Wren had finished speaking, Mieu thought about what he had said. Something special that was common to both Rhys and Lyle... she was confused. What did Wren mean by this? She muttered several combinations of things, grumbling to herself as she realised they would not work. Then it came to her. Princess Maia. That had to be it. Had to be. She walked over to where the two princes were lying and looked at both of them.
   
    "Remember, Princess Maia is still in danger!" she said. Lyle sat up and blinked suddenly. He aimlessly pushed his fringe back with one hand, then looked at Mieu.
   
    "Princess Maia! Oh, for Laya's sake! I'd nearly forgotten about that!" the young Layan prince gasped. He turned to face Rhys, who was still lying down. His eyes were closed. Lyle poked him in the side.
   
    "Rhys, don't you remember? We need to save Princess Maia!" he said loudly. Rhys blinked rapidly and rubbed his head.
   
    "Goodness! We must make haste!" the Orakian prince said. He sat up and looked at Lyle, who looked back at him. The two princes exchanged several more glances. They said nothing for a while.
   
    "Well? Are we going to rescue Princess Maia or not?" Rhys asked impatiently. Lyle looked at him but said nothing.
   
    "You really can't go wandering around the desert again." Carl said sadly. He shook his head at Rhys, who looked like he was about to head back into the desert without haste.
   
    "Carl is right, Prince Rhys. If you go in the desert now, the amnesia will just come back. You should stay here, and Mieu and I will carry out the tasks you require." Wren explained.
   
    "I think Prince Lyle has a task for you." Rhys replied.
   
    "Go ahead, Prince Lyle. What do you require?" inquired Wren. He walked closer to the young Layan prince.
   
    "The Helskiz Province has frozen over, and it needs to be thawed out. Laya told me..." he began, but Wren stopped him.
   
    "Not the Laya, the very same Laya that left with Orakio 1000 years prior?"
   
    "It was her. I'm sure of it."
   
    "I trust your word, Prince Lyle. I see she has not left your people completely."
   
    "Then why does Orakio not contact his people? Surely if Laya is contacting her people, should Orakio not be doing something similar?" Rhys interjected.
   
    "This is a difficult matter to explain, Prince Rhys. I was there when they fought. Do not forget, Orakio believed that using techniques was the work of sinners, and the only way that Laya could have contacted Prince Lyle was through use of a Telepatha Technique." Wren explained calmly.
   
    "Can you please let Lyle finish what he was saying?" Mieu asked politely. Wren turned to her and nodded his acknowledgement, then he faced Lyle.
   
    "Do finish your request, Prince Lyle. I am sorry for the interruption." Wren said. He gestured towards Lyle.
   
    "OK, as I was saying, Laya told me that the Helskiz Province can be thawed out, but that it can only be done in the Weather Station. Do you know where that is?"
   
    "I certainly do, Prince Lyle. It is in the southeast of the Bernink Province, but you will not be going there."
   
    "What?!" Lyle gasped.
   
    "You were affected by the heat of this place. I will not allow you to risk your life again, and the same applies to you, Prince Rhys. No. I will go to the Weather Station, along with Mieu and Carl."
   
    "Then what will we do? If you expect me to sit around and do nothing, you are very much mistaken, Wren!" Rhys snapped.
   
    "No. I have actually used my long-range sensors to try and locate Princess Maia. My best guess is that she is on the planet Earth, which is several hundred light years away from Samesina. A more precise scan suggests her to be on a landmass on Earth's surface, which the Earth people call the 'United Kingdom'." Wren said.
   
    "But how are we supposed to get there?" Lyle asked.
   
    "Try your technique." Wren replied simply.
   
    "Technique?"
   
    "Yes. Your technique. Surely there is a technique that can allow you to travel anywhere!" Wren's voice was triumphant.
   
    The cyborg speaks the truth, Lyle. There is a technique that can transport people anywhere they wish to go. the telepathic voice of Laya said to the young Layan prince.
   
    What technique? Lyle telepathically asked.
   
    The Ryuka Technique. replied Laya.
   
    "Wren, I've got it!" Lyle announced. He stood up and jerked Rhys to his feet.
   
    "What are you doing, Lyle?" the Orakian prince asked in shock.
   
    "I know how to get there!" the young Layan prince cried.
   
    "To this United Kingdom on Earth; am I correct with this assumption?"
   
    "Yeah, that's right." Lyle then picked up his staff, which had been leaning against a table in Carl's house, and ushered Rhys outside. Wren, Mieu and Carl followed the two princes.
   
    "So, whilst you two scour the United Kingdom, we'll go to the Weather Station and thaw out the Helskiz Province. With two teams doing two different things, finding Princess Maia and returning her safely will be a dawdle!" Carl said cheerfully.
   
    "Well, that is what we hope." Wren added in a monotonous voice. Whilst the cyborgs chatted amongst themselves, Lyle used his staff to trace a rough circle in the sand on the ground. He told Rhys to stand in it, then stood in it himself. He muttered a few incomprehensible words under his breath, and the emerald on top of the Layan prince's staff and the traced circle glowed simultaneously; the emerald glowed bright green whilst the circle glowed fiery purple. As the intensity of the light coming from the circle increased, Rhys and Lyle felt a curious shifting as their physical bodies dissolved, then the light dissipated suddenly.
   
    "They've gone to this United Kingdom. We should start going to the Weather Station." Mieu suggested to Carl and Wren. The three cyborgs made several silent wishes for their two human companions, then they headed out of Hazatak and towards the southeast of the Bernink Province.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART I: Chapter Three

 

 

 

 

The sky over the United Kingdom was dark and cloudy. A momentary flash of light streaked down and left two Samesinian princes stood on the pavement.
   
    "So this is the United Kingdom that Wren spoke of. It seems rather... bland and uninteresting, do you not think?" asked Prince Rhys whilst he smoothed down a few stray strands of hair.
   
    "I'll give the guy a chance, Rhys. We should start searching." suggested his companion, Prince Lyle. The two princes nodded in unison and began to walk in one direction, pausing to see if Maia would pass by. They walked a little further, until they reached a big open paved area. Several birds flew overhead, and the night air was filled with the sound of flapping wings and ruffling feathers. A monument stood in the centre, and it resembled a tall, thin column. The two princes looked at it, and as their gaze went higher up the column, they saw a pigeon perched on the top of it, preening its feathers. Its little head darted this way and that, then it spread its wings and took off over the roofs of a few buildings. Rhys and Lyle followed the flying pigeon with their eyes, and found themselves looking at some buildings that had bright, flickering neon lights attached to the side. Several tall, thin, dark shapes filtered in and out of them.
   
    "We should inquire over there. Those things coming out look like people." Rhys suggested. Lyle nodded his acknowledgement, and the two princes strode across the large paved are and towards the building that had the brightest set of neon lights attached to it. Just as they were about to enter, they were stopped by a tall man dressed in a black T-shirt and a pair of stonewashed jeans.
   
    "Age?" he asked sharply.
   
    "Twenty-three." Rhys replied. The man nodded and ushered the Orakian prince in. Before the man could ask Lyle his age, Rhys turned round and said, "He is with me, sir. He is eighteen." The man grunted and ushered Lyle in. The two princes looked around nervously as they walked down the corridor, which was lit with colour-changing fluorescent lights. Soon the corridor opened up into a dazzlingly-lit room with strobe lights flashing continually. People were milling about, sipping from glasses, chatting amongst themselves and dancing. The two princes edged further into the room, and as they did so, Rhys bumped into a young man with tousled brown hair and lightly tanned skin. He was wearing a white shirt and a tartan kilt.
   
    "Oh, I apologise, sir. I meant you no harm." Rhys said quickly.
   
    "Awrite! Guid eenin! How might ye be this fine night, eh?" the young man asked. Rhys was taken aback by his thick Scottish accent.
   
    "Excuse me! What a preposterous, rude man you are!" the Orakian prince exclaimed. Before he could add any more, Lyle stepped in between them.
   
    "Forgive my friend here, he can be a bit... pushy at times. So who are you?" the young Layan prince asked. The man looked at him.
   
    "Ye wee lad, a'm sorry fer bargin' into yer mate here. Me name's Angus, laddie." said Angus.
   
    "Well I'm Lyle, and this is my friend Rhys." Lyle replied quickly. He looked at Angus, who smiled at him slightly.
   
    "This place is stowed oot, if ye ask me, lads. You look lost, cannae help ye at all?"
   
    "I am not taking help from such an insolent man!" Rhys snapped.
   
    "Don't be such a..." Lyle began to tell the Orakian prince, but he couldn't think of a word.
   
    "Rhys, lad... what yer friend Lyle is sayin' to ye is to stop bein' a bampot." Angus finished for him.
   
    "For someone who is supposed to help us, you are being incredibly rude! Why, what is this bampot thing you mention so... so idiosyncratically?" Rhys asked in an agitated tone.
   
    "Laddie, if ye were from Scotland, ye would know." Angus answered simply.
   
    "And are we in Scotland?" Lyle asked.
   
    Angus laughed heartily. "Naw, lad! This is London, the capital city of England, in the UK! I thought ya woulda known that, me bonny lad!" Lyle merely gave Angus a look of confusion before he spoke.
   
    "Thanks, Angus, but I think we're better asking someone else for help. Thanks anyway." the Layan prince said kindly.
   
    "My pleasure, laddie. Guid cheerio the nou!" Angus said, before striding away from the two princes and down the strangely-lit corridor. When he had gone, Rhys looked at Lyle with disgust.
   
    "You! Lyle, how could you trust such a delinquent?" he asked with satiety.
   
    "Look, Rhys... Angus was only trying to help us. It's not my fault he spoke weird." Lyle replied simply, ignoring the slight rudeness in Rhys's tone. As they were about to look for someone else to help them, they saw a turquoise-blue thing amidst the gatherings of people.
   
    "It could be Maia!" the said together. They had said this one before, and they were wrong then. They prayed that they were right this time...
   
    "Hey!" Lyle called loudly. The turquoise-blue thing stopped and headed towards them. The two princes were wrong again. It wasn't Maia, but a tall Indian woman wearing a turquoise-blue headscarf. She wore a navy blue sari that was embroidered with intricate silvery patterns. The hems were adorned with metallic beads which reflected the artificial light that streamed from above. She also wore several chunky gold bangles on each arm, and she had large gold earrings in her ears. On her feet she wore a pair of shiny silver sandals.
   
    "Can I help you?" the woman asked kindly, fluttering her eyelashes. The two princes noticed that her eyes were heavily made up with black kohl and turquoise eyeliner, and that her eyelashes were thickly coated with mascara.
   
    "Hello there, madam. We would like to inquire about a young woman that has recently gone missing." Rhys explained. The woman put a hand to her chest and gasped.
   
    "My! What happened?" she asked, her large brown eyes looking worried.
   
    "We shall introduce ourselves before we discuss the matter further. What is your name?"
   
    "Meera Kumali. And you are?" Meera gestured towards Rhys with her long fingers.
   
    "I am Rhys Nestetine, and this is..."
   
    "Lyle Draconia." Lyle finished for the Orakian prince. Meera looked at the two princes but said nothing.
   
    "Now, Miss Kumali, as I was explaining beforehand, a young woman was kidnapped and brought here..." Rhys began, but Meera held up her hand to hell him she had something to add.
   
    "Please, call me Meera. And I'll call you two by name, if that's OK with you." she said. Lyle nodded his agreement.
   
    "You certainly can, Meera. Now, as I was saying, a young woman was kidnapped, and her name is... her name is..." -- here Rhys turned to face Lyle -- "what is her name again, Lyle?"
   
    "Maia Silfina." Lyle told him.
   
    "Yes." Rhys faced Meera again. "So Maia Silfina was kidnapped and brought to London. Do you know her?" Meera shook her head.
   
    "I'm sorry, Rhys. I don't know who she is. Although, my brother Saeed did mention meeting a girl named Maia..."
   
    "And where is your brother now?" Rhys asked.
   
    "He should be at home." replied Meera.
   
    "Well, is it gonna be OK if we go to your house and chat to Saeed?" asked Lyle kindly. His eyes glinted cheekily as his gaze met Meera's.
   
    "Yeah, it should be OK. I mean, my mum's quite kind to visitors." Meera was too well-mannered to point out that her mum might be shocked at the hair colours of the two princes (these colours were natural on Samesina, but not on Earth). Rhys and Lyle nodded.
   
    "Let's go." Lyle said, allowing Meera to lead the way. Her sari fluttered as she walked along, and the two princes followed her across the large, crowded room and down the weirdly-lit corridor. They exited the building and began to head down the street, which looked sickly yellow under the sodium flare of the street lamps. As they walked they talked about ways they could rescue Maia once they knew more information of her whereabouts. Their conversation took them to a small house near a railway line. Meera walked up the path and puled out a brass key from her small bag. She unlocked the door and opened it. There was a soft creak, but this was drowned out as a train rattled along the railway. Meera stepped into the house and called through the door that she was in the house, along with two guests. Rhys and Lyle then stepped inside the house and Meera closed the door behind them. There was the pattering of feet on wood as a short, chubby woman wearing an orange sari hurried over to the porch.
   
    "Meera! Where have you been?" she asked.
   
    "I've been to the shops. But these two guys needed help, so I brought them here to see if anyone could help them." Meera replied. She looked at Rhys and Lyle and said, "This is Latika, my mother."
   
    "If I was paid £20 for every man you brought home, I'd be a millonaire by the end of this week!" Latika joked. No-one saw the funny side of it, though. She looked closely at Rhys and Lyle and raised an eyebrow. "So, you come into my house for help? Well tell me what you need."
   
    "We're looking for Saeed, Meera's brother." Lyle said. Latika raised her eyebrow at the young Layan prince.
   
    "And what do you need with my Saeed?" she asked.
   
    "We need to ask him something. Meera told us he met a girl named Maia, and the girl we're looking for is called Maia Silfina. So we need to see if he met the same girl we were looking for."
   
    "Very well then. But first, do you two want a drink?"
   
    "That would be splendid." Rhys replied to Latika.
   
    "Yeah, great." Lyle added.



* * *


"So you two come from Samesina, right?" Latika asked Rhys and Lyle over a sip of herbal tea.
   
    "That is correct." Rhys replied.
   
    "Huh. How come I've never heard of the place?" Latika took another sip of tea.
   
    "It's several hundred light years away from Earth, that's probably why." Lyle explained. He picked up the steaming teacup that was next to him and drank some of the herbal tea Latika had brewed for him. Before Latika could ask any more, Meera popped her head through the door.
   
    "Mum, Saeed wants to go out with his friends again." she said.
   
    "Tell him that he needs to come here first though." Latika replied.
   
    "OK." Meera disappeared back through the door and there was a quietening thud-thud-thud as she headed upstairs. When the thudding had stopped, Lyle let out a sigh.
   
    "We won't be able to talk to him if he goes out, Latika."
   
    "That's why I told him to come here. Oh, sorry, gentlemen... I forgot to ask your names. As you know, I'm Latika Kumali."
   
    "I apologise for not introducing myself more promptly. I am Rhys Nestetine." Rhys said proudly.
   
    "My name's Lyle Draconia." Lyle said, extending his hand towards Latika for a handshake. Latika returned the gesture, and also shook Rhys's hand. She smiled at the two princes, then took another sip of herbal tea. As she did so, a skinny, scrawny-looking young man appeared in the doorway.
   
    "You grounded me yesterday, Mum. Don't ground me again." he said with a slight stern rudeness to his tone.
   
    "Saeed!" Latika turned round and faced the new arrival. "Don't you go telling me what I can and can't do."
   
    "Such disrespect for their elders! Am I correct with this assumption, Latika?" Rhys asked.
   
    "Yes, dear, you are. But don't go butting in, OK?" Latika said to the Orakian prince.
   
    "I apologise."
   
    "Look, Mum, what is it?" Saeed asked agitatedly. Latika motioned to a chair and told him to sit. He reluctantly did as he was told, but the moment he sat down he laced his fingers together and his eyes darted around the room nervously.
   
    "Saeed, these two gentlemen want to talk to you a moment." Latika said to Saeed. Her tone was much kinder this time.
   
    "I don't want to talk." Saeed mumbled. He avoided Latika's eyes and reached up to rake a hand through his short black hair. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and smeared it onto his dark brown shorts. He then fiddled with the silver ring that was on his middle finger and looked down at the ground.
   
    "It will only take a few minutes of your time, Saeed. This I assure you of." Rhys said carefully to the scrawny young man. He glanced at Rhys for a second, then looked away.
   
    "I said I don't want to talk. Do you mind?" Saeed's reply was rude, and his attitude took Rhys aback. The Orakian prince refrained from lecturing him about his attitude.
   
    "Meera told us you'd met this girl called Maia." Lyle said hopefully, looking at Saeed with his bright green eyes.
   
    "Maia? No idea what you're on about, buster." Saeed replied rudely.
   
    "Saeed! Stop acting so rude!" Latika snapped.
   
    "Mum, tell them I don't want to talk." Saeed shook his head.
   
    "They only want to ask you about the girl you met."
   
    "Nosey creeps."
   
    "Hey!" Lyle said, offended. His face began to crease with anger.
   
    "He will not talk. What are we to do?" Rhys asked, but his question was aimed more at Latika. He felt Lyle lean in closer to him.
   
    "We need to force him to talk." the young Layan prince whispered in his ear.
   
    "And how do you suppose we do that?" Rhys whispered back.
   
    "Telepatha Technique?"
   
    "Part of me disapproves, Lyle, but I trust in you. Do not push him too hard though." Rhys hissed in warning, and then the two princes sat back. Lyle closed his eyes and began a slow chant under his breath. As the chant continued he felt himself being locked mind-to-mind with someone. Was he mentally communicating with Saeed? He tested the psychic connection. He was psychically linked with Saeed.
   
    Tell us what we wanna know. the young Layan prince said to Saeed.
   
    "Who said that?" Saeed asked in horror.
   
    Tell me what you know about Maia. Lyle was very proficient with the Telepatha Technique; he had been using it ever since he had first learned how to cast it. His voice was a mere thread of sound in Saeed's mind.
   
    "Mum, there's a voice in my head! Tell it to shut up!" Saeed panicked. He clutched his ears, under the impression that blocking his ears would block out the sound. But it didn't.
   
    Start explaining! Tell me what you know about Maia, and I'll leave you alone! Lyle tried to gain psychic authority over Saeed, but he couldn't. Instead he began to think about some of the darker uses of the Telepatha Technique. It wasn't just a means for psychic communication, he could also use it to mentally attack someone. He tried to steer clear of this darker use of the technique, but his patience was wearing thin.
   
    "The voice... make it stop... Mum..." Saeed sobbed, burying his head in his hands and crying bitterly. His crying only made Lyle more angry. He began to concentrate harder on Saeed. An unseen hand grabbed the scrawny young man around the throat and began to crush it in a vice-like grip.
   
    "Saeed! Calm down!" Latika said frantically. She rushed over to Saeed and held the young man in her arms. His cries began to turn into terrible strangling noises.
   
    "Lyle, what are you doing?! Release him, this instant!" Rhys hissed in the young Layan prince's ear.
   
    "Not yet." Lyle whispered back. He concentrated on Saeed more intently this time.
   
    Tell me what you know about Maia, or I'll cut off your wind and you'll die. What's it gonna be? Lyle said in Saeed's head. His voice was just barely audible to Saeed, and it scared the young man so much that he began to whimper, but his whimpers sounded more like gurgling noises.
   
    "I'll talk!" Saeed half-cried, half-strangled. Lyle released him from his mental assault but kept his mind-to-mind link with Saeed intact.
   
    "OK, voice in my head, you win! I'll tell them!" cried Saeed, whilst Latika cradled his head in her arms.
   
    "You will tell us what you know about Maia?" Rhys asked.
   
    "Yes! Let me calm down a bit first!" Saeed put one hand to his chest and forced air in and out of his lungs to try and calm himself. He eventually righted himself enough to talk.
   
    "OK, she was a lovely girl. She said she was getting married, but her marriage was gatecrashed by a dragon or something. After that she didn't tell me anything." Saeed explained. As he did so, the two princes looked at each other and nodded.
   
    "That sounds a lot like Maia Silfina." Lyle said to Rhys. The Orakian prince nodded his acknowledgement and faced Saeed.
   
    "What did she look like exactly?" he asked.
   
    "God, she was like an angel. Just perfect. Flawless skin and beautiful hair. Very sexy figure too." Saeed's voice grew dreamier as he described her.
   
    "Any distinctive features you noticed?"
   
    "I could talk about her all day. Well, she had turquoise-blue hair. Bit unusual, but she suited it. And her eyes! Oh, her eyes were deep sapphire pools. I could stare into them all day." Saeed's voice was now sickly sweet with sensuality.
   
    "Hey, drop the sweet talk about her! We want facts, not opinions!" Lyle said sharply.
   
    "And stop being so metaphorical! For all we know, she could be in grave peril!" Rhys added.
   
    "Right, sorry." Saeed said, hanging his head.
   
    "Now where were we?" -- here Rhys paused to rub his chin in thought -- "Ah yes! You were going to tell us more about Maia. What other features did you notice about her?"
   
    "Well, she seemed... uneasy. She thought something was following her around." Saeed began to look worried.
   
    "Following her around, you say?"
   
    "Well that's how she looked. After we stopped for a drink at the café, she hurried off to the train station." When Saeed had finished speaking, Rhys and Lyle looked at each other and shrugged. Train station? They were confused.
   
    "A train station?"
   
    "Yeah. King's Cross Station, it's called. I go there sometimes, but I've not yet found platform 9¾." Now Rhys and Lyle were even more confused. Platform 9¾?
   
    "I'll take you there, if you want." Saeed suggested.
   
    "What, to this 'platform 9¾' you mention?" Rhys asked.
   
    "No, no, no! I said I've not found it. No, I meant to King's Cross Station!"
   
    "Right, Saeed, go on and take them there." Latika said to the scrawny young man. Saeed nodded and stood up, walked out of the room and put on his sandals. He called to Rhys and Lyle.
   
    "You two, come on!" The two princes said goodbye to Latika, then they headed into the porch to rendezvous with Saeed. As they were about to leave, Meera came to say goodbye and then the threesome left the house and began to make their way to King's Cross Station.



* * *


Meanwhile, in the Bernink Province of Samesina, three cyborgs were making a journey across the barren sandy plains on an errand set by Prince Lyle, who was currently helping Prince Rhys search for Maia in London of the United Kingdom, on Earth.
   
    "Let's hope we can do this for our two human friends." said Mieu, the only female cyborg of the threesome. She and her male companions, Wren and Carl, showed no signs of being affected by the intense heat.
   
    "As long as they do their bit, we'll do ours." Carl said, turning to face the female cyborg. Then he looked towards the horizon, where there was a strange tall object in the distance. He turned to face Wren, who was strolling calmly beside the other two.
   
    "I see what you see, Carl. You are looking at the tall metal structure on the horizon. Well that is our destination. That..." -- Wren pointed towards the tall metal structure as he said this -- "...that is the Weather Station."
   
    "So that's it." Mieu said. The three cyborgs picked up the pace and made it to the Weather Station in a matter of minutes. They stopped inside whilst Wren figured out where to go next. He pointed down a corridor made of a clear, glass-like substance and led Mieu and Carl down it. All the while they talked about their human companions, hoping that they were safe and praying for their safe return. Eventually Wren stopped and motioned to a large device nearby.
   
    "What IS that?" Mieu gasped. She ran a hand through her bright red hair and wondered what the odd device could be.
   
    "That is the weather control system. It allows the individual conditions of each of Samesina's provincial areas to be controlled." Wren explained.
   
    "I get it." Carl said, but in actuality he had no idea what Wren was on about. The other male cyborg was programmed to be a technical specialist, and neither Mieu nor Carl had received the benefits of such programming. They merely nodded their heads as Wren walked over to the device and looked at it. He nodded at some of the controls, and others he muttered 'Hmmm', and some he ignored, but once he saw the controls for the conditions in the Helskiz Province, he noticed something very wrong.
   
    "Well look at this! The controls have been tampered with, and it looks like they are unusable!" Wren deduced, putting one hand on his hip and stroking his chin with the other.
   
    "Does that mean... we can't thaw out the Helskiz Province?" Mieu asked, almost too afraid to admit that they couldn't complete their errand.
   
    "If what Mieu says is right, then..." Carl began, but he couldn't find the words to finish.
   
    "There is an emergency control somewhere, but I am trying to figure out where it was. It has been nearly 1000 years since I last used this device." Wren said, looking at the mangled controls in thought. He glanced at Mieu, then at Carl, then back at the twisted levers and half-smashed buttons. His eyes narrowed in concentration.
   
    "I have it." he said.
   
    "You do?" Mieu asked.
   
    "We will have to try our best with the controls, despite the fact that they are nearly unusable. Mieu, take this lever here." Wren held his hand towards a small lever that was bent to one side. Mieu walked towards it and took it in her hands.
   
    "Carl, you take this lever." Wren motioned to another small lever, which was twisted in such a way that it resembled a corkscrew. Carl did as he was told and took hold of the lever with both hands. Wren then took hold of a lever which had been dented slightly.
   
    "On the count of three, we push all our levers upwards. One!" Carl flexed his fingers and got ready to push.
   
    "Two!" Mieu bent her knees and got ready to push her lever.
   
    "Three!" The three cyborgs pushed their levers, and they all went up reluctantly. There was a loud creak and a deep whirring sound as the machine spluttered into life. Gears whirred and clanged inside the machine and the noise reverberated thorugh the room. The noise was almost deafening.
   
    "I think we're done here!" Mieu shouted over the noise.
   
    "We should go back to Hazatak!" Carl called.
   
    "Let's go!" Mieu motioned to the other two and together they headed towards the main entrance of the Weather Station. But as they got there, someone was waiting for them...
   
    "How lovely to see you." a scratchy male voice said.
   
    "What do you want?" Mieu asked indignantly.
   
    "What were you doing in there?"
   
    "You nosey rascal." Carl said. The owner of the scratchy male voice walked through the threshold to reveal a figure wearing an emerald-green cape and a piece of black cloth covering his nose and mouth. His eyes were covered by thick-rimmed, dark sunglasses. The three cyborgs noticed that he was wearing brown cowboy boots. He stepped beyond the threshold and looked around. He took off the cloth covering his nose and mouth and pulled down his hood to reveal that he had short, tousled black hair and fairly tanned skin.
   
    "My name is Ryan Quisto, and I'm looking for someone." Ryan said to the three cyborgs. His tone was less scratchy, but this was probably because he didn't have his mouth obstructed by cloth.
   
    "Mr. Quisto." Wren said in a monotone. He eyed Ryan suspiciously before he spoke. "So you seek someone. Who is it?"
   
    "What do you need here, exactly?" Carl asked.
   
    "I don't have time to explain to you. I have to find him as quickly as humanly possible." Ryan replied quickly. His voice revealed signs of agitation.
   
    "Humanly possible? We're cyborgs, Ryan!" Mieu giggled.
   
    "But I'm not a cyborg." Ryan shook his head as he spoke.
   
    "Mr. Quisto, we were about to head back to Hazatak. If you come with us, you can explain who you're looking for as we walk." Wren said. He began to head out of the Weather Station, and Carl followed, but Mieu did not. She was holding Ryan by one arm and she could see that his eyes were wide beneath his sunglasses.
   
    "He seeks me. We have to leave. Now!" Ryan ordered quickly, freeing himself from Mieu, pulling up the hood on his cloak and walking briskly out of the Weather Station. The cyborgs looked at each other and shrugged, but they decided to follow Ryan to where he was going...



* * *


King's Cross Station was huge, with tall metal structures towering over everybody and the station itself contained many staircases and elevators. A large, lit-up screen showed the arrival and departure times for the trains that arrived at the station's 11 platforms. The large glass doors at the entrance of the station opened, and Saeed Kumali, followed closely by Rhys Nestetine and Lyle Draconia, walked in. There were lots of people walking and chatting about their destinations, and some were running around with wheeled suitcases attending to last-minute details.
   
    "This place is much, much bigger than Landen Castle..." Rhys said, looking around the station nervously.
   
    "Well stick close, you two. I'll show you around." Saeed suggested.
   
    "Hang on, Saeed. We don't have time to tour this place. We need to find Maia." Lyle said this to Saeed with a stern voice. Saeed nodded.
   
    "OK. Let's head for platforms 9 and 10."
   
    "We're not looking for platform 9¾!" Lyle snapped.
   
    "They're the easiest platforms to get to, so it'll be the most likely place she would've gone." Saeed replied with a sigh.
   
    "We must make haste. After you, Saeed." Rhys urged. Saeed nodded at the Orakian prince and then began to head for a small staircase near a café. There were several people going up and down it, but Saeed was careful as he led Rhys and Lyle up the stairs, making sure not to bump into anyone. Two girls looked at Rhys and giggled at his hair. The Orakian prince grunted under his breath and resumed his ascent up the stairs.
   
    The threesome reached platforms 9 and 10 within five minutes. Rhys and Lyle were still overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the place, but Saeed remained cool about it. He looked at the two princes, then across the platform. A train began to rattle out of platform 9, and the noise was deafening.
   
    "What in blazes is going on here?!" Rhys yelled over the noise. He might as well have mimed it, because Saeed and Lyle couldn't hear him, but they managed to read his lips to find out what he was saying.
   
    "It's just a departing train!" Saeed yelled back. He watched as the train sped towards the horizon, rattling as it went. As it got further and further away from the station, the rattling noise died down. Eventually the threesome could speak without shouting at each other.
   
    "Well, where would Maia be now?" Rhys asked Saeed. The scrawny young man didn't reply, but instead pointed to a figure stood in the distance that had turquoise-blue hair fluttering in the breeze. Rhys ran towards the figure.
   
    "Maia!" he called as he ran. Lyle and Saeed ran after him and discovered that it actually was Maia that was stood there.
   
    "How... did you..." she began, but she couldn't finish.
   
    "Maia, are you well?" Rhys asked tentatively.
   
    "I'm not really here... I made an apparition of myself to tell you something, Rhys." she replied.
   
    "But why would you bring your apparition here, Maia?"
   
    "Samesina... it's too dangerous to use apparitions there. I had to tell you that I'm being held in the castle of Cille by my father, King Ramond of Cille."
   
    "How is it too dangerous to use an apparition in Samesina, Maia?"
   
    "It's difficult to explain, Rhys. Maybe someday I'll be able to tell you." The apparition of Maia faded, and Rhys fell to his knees and began to sob.
   
    "This... this is outrageous! Why... why is this happening?!" the Orakian prince cried, just as he fell to his hands and knees in devastation.
   
    "I don't know." Saeed shrugged. As he was about to lead the two princes out of King's Cross Station, he saw his sister Meera running up to him. Her face showed signs of panic.
   
    "Saeed, you have to come quick! Mum's not in good shape!" Meera was frantic, and she began to pull Saeed away from the two princes.
   
    "Don't worry about us, Saeed and Meera! We'll find our own way back!" Lyle called after Saeed. The two princes waved Meera and Saeed goodbye, then they headed for a corner near to platform 9, which was shaded and protected from the main stream of people.
   
    "We must go back to rescue Maia! That is our utmost priority!" Rhys panicked.
   
    "Yeah, I know, but we need to catch up with Mieu, Wren and Carl. Let's go to Hazatak first." Lyle said coolly to the Orakian prince. He used his staff to trace a rough circle in the pile of dust and cigarette ash on the floor, then he and Rhys stepped into it. The young Layan prince chanted a few words under his breath and cast the Ryuka Technique. A purple glow emanated from the circle and disappeared as suddenly as it had started, taking the two princes with it.
   
    In Hazatak's central square, a mauve beam of light struck the centre and deposited two humans there. Rhys and Lyle looked around, then at each other.
   
    "We're here. Now to find our three cyborg friends." Lyle said.
   
    "Indeed." Rhys agreed. They began to make their way towards Carl's house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART I: Chapter Four

 

 

 

 

The two princes knocked on the door of Carl's house and waited for a second. The door opened and a voice told them to come in. It wasn't Carl, but a person that Rhys and Lyle did not recognise. The two princes said nothing and sat down on chairs in silence. It was a while before anyone spoke.
   
    "So you two are the human partners of those three cyborgs." said the voice that Rhys and Lyle didn't recognise.
   
    "Then where are they? You must provide us with this information, immediately!" Rhys snapped.
   
    "They will come, but first..."
   
    "Silence, varmint! By order of Prince Rhys of Landen, I order you to reveal your identity at once!" There was another lengthy pause before a man with lightly tanned skin, short, tousled black hair, clad in a long-sleeved green shirt and blue jeans with a pair of cowboy boots covering his feet and sunglasses shading his eyes strode out from a neighbouring room.
   
    "Good day, Prince Rhys. I am Ryan Quisto, a lone Layan traveller." Ryan said to the Orakian prince. Rhys merely regarded him with a slightly disgusted look.
   
    "Layan traveller. I see." Rhys echoed, folding his arms. He used a swift movement of his head to flick a lock of hair out of his eyes. Ryan extended his hand towards the Orakian prince for a handshake. Rhys took it reluctantly. He still had little trust in Ryan, especially because of their different bloodlines.
   
    "Prince Rhys, may I ask who your partner is?" Ryan asked carefully. He almost subconsciously knew that Rhys did not like him much.
   
    "He can speak to you himself, Mr. Quisto." Rhys replied, a little more sharply than he intended.
   
    "Ryan, please." Rhys nodded his acknowledgement, then Ryan exhaled and strode over to Lyle. He removed his sunglasses and wiped the lenses on his shirt before he spoke to the young Layan prince.
   
    "And who might you be?" Ryan asked. Lyle tilted his head slightly, looked at Ryan with his bright green eyes and smiled.
   
    "Ryan, I'm Prince Lyle of Shusoran." the young Layan prince announced proudly.
   
    "Ah, a fellow Layan! I thought our people had died out!" Ryan gasped.
   
    "No, no! I know that Layans are not as numerous as they once were, but it's all the overly-devout Orakians' fault." On these words, Rhys jerked his head round and faced Lyle. His lips drew back into a slight snarl and he clenched one fist.
   
    "Contradiction, Lyle. The overly-devout Layans slaughtered the Orakians too!" the Orakian prince snapped.
   
    "Yeah, but I was talking about the overly-devout ones. You're not overly-devout. You're an Orakian, but you've got sense enough to see that not all Layans are bad. Just like I'm not an overly-devout Layan. Sure, I'm Layan, but I've got sense enough to see that not all Orakians are bad." Lyle explained. Rhys merely argued that Layans were senseless idiots. The argument carried on for a while, until eventually Rhys stopped.
   
    "We will settle our differences in a civilised, mature manner. We are princes, after all." the Orakian prince said. He explained to Lyle that their different backgrounds was causing this argument, and that the Devastation War that occurred 1000 years ago was partly to blame.
   
    "So, if we're just arguing 'cause of something that happened 1000 years ago, before we were even born, we should just shut up and get on, right?" Lyle asked.
   
    "Indeed." Rhys agreed. The two princes shook hands. Lyle turned to face Ryan.
   
    "So, where are Mieu, Wren and Carl, our cyborg friends?" the young Layan prince asked.
   
    "Don't worry. They said they were heading for the Helskiz Province. They told me to come here and give you the news." Ryan replied. He then went on to explain that Carl was not with them, because he said he had other duties to attend to, and he also told the two princes what they were doing - they were making their way to Shusoran in order to get to Cille (there is a bridge over the lake that separates the two towns and it is always open). When Ryan had finished speaking, Lyle felt a curious stirring in his mind.
   
    If what Ryan says is true, then those cyborgs are in danger. The Layans will exterminate them should they even get near to Shusoran. Your only choice is to find them quickly and get them to Cille immediately. I know that Cille is also a Layan town, but your utmost priority is to make sure that Maia is safe and sound. Go, quickly! The telepathic voice of Laya was filled with panic. The young Layan prince let out an audible gasp.
   
    "What is it?" Ryan asked.
   
    "We have to get to the cyborgs, quick sharp. If the people of Shusoran see them, they're gonna get short-circuited faster than you can say 'Zan Technique'. Let's go." Lyle replied quickly.
   
    "Should we not use your ability, Lyle?" The young Layan prince knew what Rhys was hinting at. Even Ryan knew what Rhys was hinting at. He shook his head, but the Orakian prince replied with the fact that they would get to Maia quicker if he used the power of the Dragon Knight. Lyle let out a long sigh and led Rhys and Ryan outside, then he disappeared behind a building.
   
    "Are you sure you can trust that guy? I mean, Dragon Knights are--" Ryan began to say to Rhys, but the Orakian prince silenced him.
   
    "Yes, I know about them. The folklore in the Samesinian Chronicle tells them to be the elite force of Laya's battalions. And yes, whilst they are incredibly dangerous, they also prove useful for traversing normally-impassable terrain. And dragons are quite fun to ride, if I do say so myself!" Rhys smiled as he spoke the last sentence.
   
    "Oh, OK, Prince Rhys. I'll take your word for it." Ryan raked a hand through his black hair and looked at the Orakian prince. Rhys looked him and gave him a lopsided smile, just as a huge brown dragon stomped towards them.
   
    "OK, I'm ready. Two VIP tickets to Cille on the Dragon Express!" the dragon said in its gruff voice. It reached towards Rhys and Ryan with its clawed hands, picked them up and placed them on its back. It headed out of Hazatak before it spread its great wings and began to fly towards the Helskiz Province.



* * *


The air rushed past the great dragon and its two passengers as it flew over a mountain range separating the Bernink Province from the Helskiz Province. They were headed for the Helskiz Province to try to prevent Mieu and Wren, their two cyborg companions, from being (as Prince Lyle put it) short-circuited faster than you can say 'Zan Technique'.
   
    "Where would they be right now?" Prince Rhys asked, looking down carefully at the ground.
   
    "Don't worry about that, I see them." replied the dragon. It swooped downwards and landed on the ground. However, Mieu and Wren were not there. It was just several strips of red and black material fluttering on a nearby tree branch. The dragon let out an angered roar and took to the sky once more. It flew towards a large cloud which looked like a person holding some sort of rope.
   
    "Wait! Look, down there!" Ryan called. He pointed down at something red and something black, both moving close to each other and in the same direction. Rhys followed him and saw it too.
   
    "Fly downwards, Ryan thinks he has seen them!" the Orakian prince called loudly. The dragon gave a grunt of acknowledgement as it flew downwards to investigate. Sure enough, they had found Mieu and Wren. The two cyborgs were walking quickly towards the outer gates of the town of Shusoran, and they were closer than anticipated. Rhys and Ryan jumped off the dragon's back and began to follow them, whilst the dragon headed towards a little thicket of trees which was in the direction away from the one Mieu and Wren were heading.
   
    "You two, stop! Don't go any further!" Ryan called loudly. Mieu turned round to look at him. She sighed and gathered her red hair in one hand.
   
    "What are you talking about, Ryan? We've got a princess to save!" she said agitatedly.
   
    "But, but... if you go into Shusoran alone, you'll... you'll be killed 'cause you're cyborgs."
   
    "That is a risk we must take, Ryan." Wren said calmly, with no emotion. He did not face Ryan, but he ran a hand through his short black hair aimlessly. He let out a brief sigh.
   
    "You guys are crazy. I mean, really. You'll get killed. You're gonna need help." Before Wren or Mieu could reply, Lyle strode forward, staff in hand. He motioned towards the gates of Shusoran.
   
    "Ryan's right. You'll get short-circuited faster than you can say 'Zan Technique' if you go in there. If we all go in together, we can do it." the young Layan prince said.
   
    "There is safety in numbers." added Rhys.
   
    "Actually, Prince Rhys is right." Mieu said to Wren.
   
    "He is?"
   
    "Yes. If we go in as a larger group, there's a better chance for us to overcome any threats which might befall us." Wren did not say his response out loud, but merely nodded and turned to face Rhys. The Orakian prince nodded his head slightly, and together he, Wren, Mieu, Lyle and Ryan headed into the town of Shusoran. As the fivesome crossed the threshold, several of the local people pointed out that Mieu and Wren were definitely different from the other humans. One man headed for the castle in a bit of a panic.
   
    Several minutes later guards boiled out of the castle, yelling and wielding pikes. They ran in several organised flanks, scouting the town grounds for intruders. Lyle suggested that the others should quickly head for Cille, whilst he hung back to deal with the guards. Rhys nodded and began to head for a small gate which Lyle had pointed out. The Orakian prince led Ryan, Mieu and Wren there whilst Lyle stood in the town square and waited. As he did so, though, he felt a telepathic stir in his subconscious.
   
    Lyle, you must not stay there. Your companions need you. Go, quickly! instructed the telepathic voice of Laya. Lyle did not reply to her, instead he made a frantic dash for the gate he had pointed out to Rhys moments earlier, only to find that it had been shut and locked. He growled under his breath and tried to find an alternate route. All the while the guards were closing in on him. The young Layan prince felt the sweat run down his back. His eyes darted around, scanning the area for any means of escape.
   
    "There he is! I saw him assisting Orakians!" called the voice of one of Shusoran's local townsfolk. Lyle was more panicky now. His breathing quickened. His heart pounded. He tried to run towards a back alley, but there were two guards lurking in the shadows. One jumped out, but Lyle dodged in time, sending the guard flying. He hit his head against a wall with a sickening crack. The other guard panicked and rushed over to help the first one, whilst the young Layan prince made a dash for Shusoran Castle. As he was about to enter, a guard shackled his wrist and dragged him inside. Lyle gave a whimper of surprise and looked around quickly.
   
    "How lovely to see you, Prince. We were looking for you." the guard said with a cruel knife-like edge to his voice.
   
    "Wha-- you're all mad!" Lyle gasped, trying to move away from the guard. His efforts were all in vain, but still the young Layan prince struggled, hoping that the guard would loosen his grip, but he did not. Out of the throne room, an old man shuffled out. He was wearing a royal red robe and a crown on his head.
   
    "How lovely of you to join us, my son. We must discuss matters now." The voice belong to Lyle's father, King Raziel of Shusoran. The young Layan prince's eyes were wide with fear, and he did not know what was going on.
   
    "What's this... this nonsense?!" Lyle asked in a scared voice.
   
    "You will see soon enough, my son. Now come. If we do not discuss these matters now, it will be too late. This is of the utmost importance."
   
    "OK, Dad. I'll take your word for it." When the King of Shusoran headed back into the throne room, Lyle scowled as he was led in there by the guard that held him.



* * *


Lyle was incredibly nervous. What was going in the throne room of Shusoran Castle? And why was his father ordering his guards to capture him like so? The guard who had hold of him pushed open the door of the throne room and led the young Layan prince inside. There was an unusually large gathering of people there, along with King Ramond of Cille, who was busy waving at people and smiling.
   
    "My son, King Ramond has offered to give away his daughter in marriage." the King of Shusoran explained to Lyle.
   
    "But where are my friends?" the young Layan prince inquired.
   
    "They are here." The King ordered the guard to release Lyle, and he did so. The young Layan prince was then led to a small room where Mieu and Wren were sat at a table, Ryan was stood by the window and Rhys was stood by the mirror, smartening himself up.
   
    "Now, Lyle, King Ramond asked me if you would like to marry Princess Maia." the King said to the young Layan prince. Lyle shook his head.
   
    "No, Dad. I don't deserve her. I don't love her as much as Prince Rhys does." he replied. The King rubbed his chin in thought.
   
    "I see. And what makes you think he is a fitting husband for my niece?"
   
    "He's got a decent love for her, and it should also help get rid of the enmity between the Orakians and the Layans. The fighting is absolute nonsense."
   
    "Come, Prince Rhys!" the King called. The Orakian prince strode over and looked at him, then at Lyle. He smoothed down his ocean-blue hair with one hand.
   
    "And what is it you wish of me?" he asked.
   
    "Prince Rhys, King Ramond of Cille offers his daughter's hand in marriage, and Prince Lyle says you have an interest in this woman. Well, do you wish to marry Princess Maia?"
   
    "I certainly do, Your Majesty."
   
    "Well then, Prince Rhys, to the throne room!" The King ushered Rhys and Lyle out of the room, and then he led the Orakian prince down the long red carpet that ran up to the throne and to where Princess Maia and King Ramond were standing. The King of Cille gave the Orakian prince a warm smile.
   
    "So you are the one who my daughter wishes to marry. I am sorry for doubting you." King Ramond said to the Orakian prince. Rhys smiled.
   
    "Do not worry, King Ramond. Whilst it is true we are of different heritage, we can still form an alliance that will surely be a step to world peace!" the Orakian prince replied. Maia looked at King Ramond, then at Rhys, then back again.
   
    "Go on, my dear," King Ramond said to Maia, "he loves you. Will you marry him?"
   
    "I definitely will." Maia replied. She walked up to Rhys with a smile and took his hand in one of her own.
   
    "We'll be a great couple, and together we'll look after my father's land and make it a prosperous place for all." the princess said to Rhys. The Orakian prince smiled at her and they kissed tenderly. The crowd clapped and cheered wildly. Meanwhile, in the background, Lyle looked at Maia and felt a slight regret. She had something he did not, someone to love. Then he remembered Meera Kumali, the young Indian woman who had helped him whilst he was in London. Part of him longed for her, but he was not sure if he could trust his instinct.
   
    "Are you OK, my son?" the King of Shusoran asked.
   
    "I'm just thinking of this girl I met. She's not here though." the young Layan prince sighed.
   
    "Bring her here. You can use the Ryuka Technique to do that." Lyle nodded, chanted a few words under his breath and cast the Ryuka Technique. A ball of purple light hovered, pulsated, and grew in size. As it grew, it began to form a vaguely human shape, and when the light faded, Meera was stood there in her navy blue sari and her turquoise-blue headdress. She looked around nervously with her large brown eyes.
   
    "Where am I?" she asked, almost frightened.
   
    "Hey, Meera! It's me!" Lyle called. Meera faced him.
   
    "Oh, Lyle! It's you! But, where am I?"
   
    "You're in my house. Or shall I say, my castle."
   
    "You live in a castle? That's amazing!"
   
    "Well, after all, I am a prince." When Lyle had said that, Meera looked at him and strode over. She giggled, and the sound made Lyle's heart leap with joy.
   
    "Wow, Lyle. So, what did you bring me here for?" Meera wondered.
   
    "Will you... will you marry me?" the young Layan prince asked.
   
    "Oh, I'd become a princess, wouldn't I?"
   
    "That's right. And I love you to bits."
   
    "Aww, Lyle, you're so sweet! Of course I'll marry you!" Meera moved in closer and embraced Lyle. They parted, then they kissed fiercely. The King of Shusoran clapped, and the other people in the crowd began clapping too.



* * *


Whilst enmity once separated two groups of people, the marriage of Prince Rhys and Princess Maia was the first step with bridging the gap. They became the King and Queen of Cille, where they ruled the land in peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, the marriage of Prince Lyle and Meera Kumali meant that they became the King and Queen of Shusoran, and they also ruled their land in peace.
   
    In Cille, Queen Maia soon gave birth to a son, whom she and King Rhys named Ayn. Three years later, a female child was born to King Rhys and Queen Maia, and they named her Mercedes. Together, the two siblings grew up in a land of happiness and joy.
   
    Meanwhile, in Shusoran, Queen Meera gave birth to a baby girl, and she and King Lyle named her Thea. She grew up and had a prosperous childhood.
   
    These times were about to change, for when Prince Ayn of Cille turned fifteen, reports began to arrive that Samesina was under attack, and that Cille and neighbouring Shusoran were the primary targets...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART II: Chapter One

 

 

 

 

It was only a week after Prince Ayn's fifteenth birthday when trouble began to approach the deniziens of Cille. The people talked of cyborgs approaching, but no-one could be sure. But at the same time, Princess Mercedes, who was only twelve years old, was stricken by an unusual illness. None of Cille's doctors knew the cure to such a terrible malady.
   
    It was then decided that Prince Ayn would go out to seek the cure for his sister's illness, and to find out why cyborgs were approaching Cille...



* * *


The town of Cille was in a panic. Rumours had started that there were cyborgs plotting to invade the town and slaughter the townsfolk. People rushed around, not knowing whether they should hide or fight. The sun watched overhead and lit the town up with its golden-yellow rays. Some of these warm rays streamed through the windows of Castle Cille and into the throne room, where Prince Ayn was, along with his parents, King Rhys and Queen Maia.
   
    "We already feel as though we have done everything for her. Maybe she will not make it, and it pains me to say this to you, my son." Rhys said.
   
    "But, if she... Dad, you can't be serious!" Prince Ayn refused to believe what his father was telling him. The young prince was half-Layan, as the result of him being born to an Orakian father and a Layan mother. He had fairly long, turquoise-blue hair which was tied in a ponytail. He had fair skin and bright blue eyes. There were a few freckles on his nose. He wore a green short-sleeved shirt, a pair of dark green trousers held up with a black belt, and a pair of brown boots. He had a white cloak pinned around his shoulders with a gold clasp. The young prince was rather protective, but he was very easy to upset. He also had an unusual hatred of people of non-royal descent.
   
    "I am being serious, Ayn. Your sister is not in the best of conditions." Rhys stated the truth in a solemn tone.
   
    "Will she..." Ayn could not finish his sentence.
   
    "We hope not, dear." Queen Maia said to the young prince, as if she knew what he was implying. Ayn nodded sadly, then he headed to the royal bedroom, which was very luxurious, with its silken drapes and velvet bed covers. A young girl was lying on one of the large four-poster beds, with a sheet covering her. Her eyes were closed and she was breathing shallowly.
   
    "Mercedes! It's me!" Ayn called softly. The young girl's eyes opened slowly and she blinked rapidly. She sat up slowly, and the cover fell away to reveal that she was wearing a white lacy nightdress. Her long hair was a shade of cerulean blue, and it cascaded down her slim frame in waves. Her skin was pale and she had full lips. Her eyes were a slate grey colour, and they looked almost like mist. But whilst she was so beautiful, she was also unwell. No-one knew what was wrong with her.
   
    "Oh, Ayn..." Mercedes said in a soft voice. Her eyes began to well with tears.
   
    "I wish I knew what was going on with you..." Ayn replied. He felt tears welling in his eyes too.
   
    "I think it might've been when... you remember when we had that party to celebrate your fifteenth birthday?"
   
    "Yeah, I remember. What about it?"
   
    "Well, I think... someone might have..." Ayn stopped Mercedes before she could say anything more.
   
    "Mercedes! You can't be serious! You seem to be suggesting that your food was poisoned?" the young prince gasped.
   
    "It's possible..." Mercedes lay back down on the bed and put a hand to her forehead. Ayn looked at her for a few more moments, then he headed back into the throne room. He noticed that there was a messenger from Shusoran there, who was talking with King Rhys and Queen Maia. He overheard the last part of the conversation.
   
    "...but the thing is, if we don't do anything soon, the people of both Cille and Shusoran are as good as dead!"
   
    "We already have enough trouble to deal with as it is."
   
    "Your friend, King Lyle of Shusoran, has requested your help! His people are terrified of what is coming, and he has no other choice but to ask you for assistance!"
   
    "Would it not be fair if I asked King Lyle to do me a favour before I do him one?"
   
    "Of course, Your Majesty. I shall go and tell him right away." The messenger from Shusoran bowed to King Rhys and Queen Maia before he left hurriedly. Ayn, who had been watching and eavesdropping from the doorway to the royal bedroom, looked worried. Were the rumours about cyborgs approaching all true? He shuffled out of the bedroom doorway and towards King Rhys.
   
    "Well, my son? How is Mercedes today?" the Orakian king asked.
   
    "Dad, she seems better than yesterday. But she's so tired..." Ayn replied. His eyes were nearly welling with tears. Before King Rhys could inquire further, a fanfare of trumpets sounded from nearby. A voice announced the presence of an important royal visitor, and the doors of the throne room were flung open as ten guards marched in as two lines of five. They stood facing each other and a red carpet unrolled between the lines, pushed by a scrawny-looking man with bright purple hair. Two flower girls skipped across the carpet, scattering flower petals along it and giving a rose to each of the guards. They then headed back through the door, and in came two trumpet-bearers. They strode along the carpet and took their position next to the lines of guards. They began to play a fanfare, and four dancers dressed in saris made their way along the carpet, doing a belly-dance as they advanced towards King Rhys and Queen Maia. They were followed by a short man in a red shirt and brown trousers wearing a crimson cape. He carried a small scroll in one hand. When he reached the end of the carpet, he unrolled the scroll and cleared his throat.
   
    "King Rhys and Queen Maia of Cille, I give you... King Lyle of Shusoran!" he announced. He then rolled the scroll back up and stood to one side. The trumpet-players played another fanfare, as a man strode along the carpet. He wore a red-brown short-sleeved shirt and a pair of black trousers. He had a long white cloak pinned around his shoulders, slightly to one side. He carried a long emerald-topped staff in one hand. His long, bright green hair was tied into a ponytail and he had boyish features. He wore a black eye-patch over his left eye.
   
    "Well, hi there! It's me, King Lyle of Shusoran!" Lyle announced with a slight laugh. Although he had got older, he hadn't changed much.
   
    "Good day to you, Lyle. That was rather an opulent display, do you not think?" Rhys asked.
   
    "Hey, I'm an important guy. I gotta make a big entrance, right?"
   
    "It is rather inappropriate given our current situation."
   
    "Right, well... sorry about that." Lyle looked at Queen Maia and smiled. She returned the gesture.
   
    "How are you, dear cousin?" Maia asked Lyle.
   
    "I'm fine." he replied. He looked at Rhys and began to speak. "So, what do you need from me?"
   
    "Do you know how to cure an unusual illness, Lyle? My daughter, Princess Mercedes, is not well, and we do not know what is wrong." the Orakian king explained.
   
    "She's my sister, Your Majesty! Do something!" Prince Ayn cried, unable to stop himself butting in.
   
    "Ayn, please! Silence yourself! Do not be so rude!" Rhys snapped at the young half-Layan prince.
   
    "Rhys, don't worry about that. He's concerned, that's all. Right, Ayn?" Lyle asked.
   
    "Yeah, Your Majesty." Ayn replied. Lyle laughed and told him that he didn't have to be so formal. As Rhys was about to explain what was going on, Princess Mercedes made her way slowly to the door and looked out. She was weak, and she was unsteady on her feet, but she stood by the doorway and observed the scene with her slate-grey eyes.
   
    "Lyle, are you sure that you can do this?" Rhys asked.
   
    "Yeah. If normal medicine doesn't sort it, then techniques usually will." Lyle replied.
   
    "And what technique will you use?"
   
    "The Anti Technique, which is one that cures anything."
   
    "Anything, you say? That sounds preposterous."
   
    "OK, almost anything. It can't cure death."
   
    "I thought not." Rhys shook his head at Lyle, just as Mercedes made her way unsteadily towards the group. She gave Ayn a weak smile.
   
    "Mercedes, my dear, should you not be resting?" Rhys asked the young half-Layan princess.
   
    "No, Dad. I thought a bit of a walk... it'd do me good." Mercedes replied with a small smile. Lyle looked at her with his good eye and smiled.
   
    "It's a good job you came, Mercedes. I was about to try something." he explained.
   
    "What?" Mercedes lied, knowing exactly what Lyle was talking about but not admitting it.
   
    "I was gonna try an Anti Technique to cure that illness of yours."
   
    Mercedes managed a small smile. "OK then, Your Majesty." she said. Lyle laughed, then told her she could call him by name. Then his face became serious as he closed his eyes and muttered several words under his breath. The emerald on top of his staff began to glow a pale green colour. The soft light then parted from the staff and formed a pale green glowing orb in front of Mercedes. She looked at it, and its light reflected in her slate-grey eyes. The orb of light then floated towards her and expanded, enveloping her in soft green light. She felt as if she was weightless for a brief moment, then the light dissipated.
   
    "How do you feel now, Mercedes? You OK?" Lyle asked.
   
    "Thanks, Lyle. I feel a lot better." Mercedes replied, sounding a lot less tired and feeble than before.
   
    "Now that you have cured my daughter, I can return the favour. Well, not me personally, but I can offer to help in whatever ways I can." Rhys said to Lyle.
   
    "Sure, Rhys. Just send the people you want to do the favour for you. Tell them I'll explain it all in Castle Shusoran." Lyle replied to the Orakian king before striding back along the red carpet, closely followed by the trumpet-bearers and the guards. The scrawny-looking purple-haired man who had unrolled the carpet before ran out and began to roll up the carpet again, then when it was fully rolled up, he picked it up and scurried out of the throne room. When all of the guests had left, Rhys faced Ayn and Mercedes.
   
    "Ayn, Mercedes, my children. You two should go and assist King Lyle with what he requires." the Orakian king explained. Ayn narrowed his eyes.
   
    "Dad, Mercedes has only just recovered. Are you sure she'll be OK?" the prince asked.
   
    "I'll be fine, Ayn. Let's just do what Dad wants." Mercedes said agitatedly. Ayn calmly pointed out that she was still in her nightgown, so Mercedes stood up and went into the royal bedroom to put on some clothes.
   
    Ten minutes later, Mercedes came out of the bedroom wearing a pale blue blouse, a navy blue skirt and black shoes. Her cerulean blue hair cascaded down her shoulders like a waterfall and framed her face. She had a grey sash tied around her waist, and this concealed two sharp knives. She wore a small sapphire pendant on a slim silver chain that was around her neck.
   
    "Great. So we can go now!" Ayn said triumphantly.
   
    "Not yet, my son. You must be prepared. Here, take this." Rhys said to the young prince, handing him a long sword with a silvery hilt. Ayn took the blade out of its scabbard slightly, and saw that the blade was also silvery. He put it back in the scabbard and attached it to the right-hand side of the belt around his waist (this made it easier for him to draw as he is left-handed).
   
    "Thanks, Dad." Ayn said, and then he walked out of the throne room, calling goodbye to Rhys and Maia as he left.
   
    "See you later, Mum and Dad." Mercedes said to her parents, and then she too left the throne room.



* * *


Prince Ayn and Princess Mercedes arrived at Castle Shusoran within ten minutes. They were then led into Castle Shusoran by two guards.
   
    "Ayn and Mercedes. What a nice surprise!" King Lyle said as the two siblings walked in and sat down on a bench. But as the Layan king was about to begin explaining the situation to them, his mind went completely blank and he couldn't say anything.
   
    "Lyle? Something wrong?" Mercedes asked. She looked at him worriedly.
   
    "Drat! I forgot what I was gonna say!" he replied agitatedly. He muttered a few choice swear words in the ancient Samesinian language, then he began to rack his brains to see if he could figure out what he was going to say. He had no luck. He told Ayn and Mercedes that he would pray to Laya to see if that would help him remember what he was going to say. He dropped to his knees and began a slow, melodic chant in the ancient language of Samesina. Ayn and Mercedes found themselves listening to the compelling, beautiful pitch. As Lyle finished the chant, he felt a stirring in his subconscious.
   
    You are the King of Shusoran, yet you need my help? Lyle, have you not fully grown up yet? said the telepathic voice of Laya. She sounded so sweet and beautiful, and the laugh that followed was like music to the Layan king.
   
    I'm forgetting things, Laya. I wanted to tell Prince Ayn and Princess Mercedes of Cille something, but I forgot what I was gonna tell them. Lyle replied solemnly to Laya.
   
    That is the period in life called middle age, Lyle. It happens to everyone. Laya's tone became serious. I think you were about to tell them of the cyborg invasion that will befall the lands of both Shusoran and Cille. You also have to tell them what to do. In this case, it will be to find out who is controlling these cyborgs, and why they are doing this.
   
    Thanks, Laya.
When Lyle sent his thanks to Laya, her voice faded. The Layan king then faced Ayn and Mercedes.
   
    "Right, here's the deal. As you probably know, cyborgs are coming. They're gonna come and invade Shusoran and Cille, I know it. You two need to try and find out who's behind this." he explained, just as Queen Meera tottered over to him. She was wearing a royal red sari embroidered with gold, and she wore many pieces of gold jewellery.
   
    "Lyle, dear, Thea's gone and tripped over again. She's getting rather clumsy." she said to Lyle.
   
    "Meera! Tell her to write me a postcard!" Lyle replied with a laugh. Meera laughed too, then she tottered away. As Lyle was about to explain the situation a bit further, a fanfare of trumpets sounded from outside the castle. A short man with pink hair walked in and bowed in front of Lyle.
   
    "Your Majesty, a guest from the Salvadayna Province has arrived!" he announced.
   
    "Send him in." Lyle replied. The man nodded and scurried back to the castle entrance to tell the guards to let the guest in. Ayn craned his neck to face the new arrival, but did not recognise him. All the while, Lyle smiled more and more as the guest approached.
   
    "Ryan Quisto! How great to see you again!" the Layan king said, giving Ryan a man hug.
   
    "A pleasure, Your Majesty. I see you have a nice little kingdom here!" Ryan replied, smiling back at Lyle. Then the smile faded. Ryan took off the sunglasses he normally wore and looked at the Layan king with his dark eyes.
   
    "What is it?" Lyle asked.
   
    "There is trouble elsewhere, too. The town of Divisia in the Salvadayna Province has reported a threat which approaches them without mercy!" Ryan said solemnly.
   
    "Who? Or what?"
   
    "The name 'Emperor Lune' is uttered in fear everywhere you go in the Salvadayna Province. I happen to lead a band of freedom fighters against Emperor Lune, but my group's far too small. I need help."
   
    "Ryan, we've got problems of our own here! We've got a cyborg invasion coming in!"
   
    "Then we can work together, right, Your Majesty? Some of my group can help you, and some of your group can help me!" Ryan looked terribly worried now. Before Lyle could say anything more, eight guards walked briskly through the throne room, closely followed by two of the royal subjects from Cille.
   
    "Sorry to barge in, Your Majesty, but the cyborgs are already taking over Cille!" one of the subjects said in a panic.
   
    "Mum and Dad! They need our help!" Mercedes cried.
   
    "It's OK, Princess. They've got their escape plan sorted."
   
    "Escape?! You mean they're not even trying to fight back?!" Ayn gasped.
   
    "There's too many of them, Prince. There's no way we could've fought them off." the panicked subject replied to the half-Layan prince. Ryan and Lyle seemed to be shaken by the news too.
   
    "They'll take over Shusoran next! Quickly, we have to get the evac in place! Move!" Lyle ordered, and the guards of Shusoran jumped to attention immediately.
   
    "What should I do?" Ryan asked.
   
    "Get the heck outta here, then we'll talk!" Lyle replied sharply. He pushed Ryan in the direction of the castle entrance, then ushered Ayn and Mercedes in the same direction. The two royal siblings of Cille needed no second bidding. They held hands and hurried out of the castle, whilst Lyle headed for the castle gardens. As he left the throne room, King Rhys and Queen Maia entered, carrying some of their belongings.
   
    "Did my cousin get out?" Maia asked as she scuttled towards the castle entrance.
   
    "I know not for sure, Maia. We are better off making haste with our escape." Rhys replied, taking Maia's arm and hurrying her out. As the king and queen of Cille left, Lyle re-entered the throne room with Meera and Thea. The two women were shaken, but when Lyle explained the situation, they hurried out of the castle to join the other evacuees.
   
    "Please, Laya, don't let the cyborgs harm the innocents..." Lyle prayed as he hurried out of the castle.



* * *


"Alright, everyone! Assemble at the castle gates!" Lyle yelled breathlessly to the panicked crowd outside his castle. They rushed for the gates and lined up, with the guards staying just inside the gates. Before anyone could suggest what to do, a large gathering of people ran out of the castle with bags in their hands. Some were carrying wailing children, but they were all heading out of the gates.
   
    "My people, stop! If you are to head out immediately, you will be massacred!" King Rhys called to the flustered people. They stopped and assembled with the rest of the crowd. Lyle then walked up to the gates and cleared his throat.
   
    "People of Cille and Shusoran, we need to get out of here, quickly! Guards of Cille, can you lead your people to this cave in the Bernink Province?" the Layan king said, showing the guards a map of the Bernink Province with one cave marked on it. They nodded.
   
    "Come now, we must make haste! Guards, lead us off!" Rhys said to the guards. They ushered the people into a group and stood around them in a defensive ring. They then marched off. Lyle addressed the guards of Shusoran.
   
    "Guards of Shusoran, make sure my people go to the cave in the Bernink Province I sent the people of Cille to! Go, quickly!" the Layan king ordered. The guards could not find the people of Shusoran anywhere, though. Ayn and Mercedes, who had not gone with the rest of the group from Cille, began to look worried.
   
    "We should go in and find them." Mercedes suggested hopefully.
   
    "Forget the peasants, Mercedes! Let's just save our own rear ends!" Ayn protested, but Lyle had heard him.
   
    "Ayn, those are my people you're talking about. Shut up." he snapped. Ayn grimaced and backed away towards the guards of Shusoran. As he backed away, Mercedes strode forward and looked Lyle in the eye.
   
    "We should go in and find them, Lyle. They might be hiding in their houses." she said. Lyle nodded, then told the guards he would be going into the town of Shusoran to look for his people.
   
    "Too dangerous, Your Majesty! You can't go alone!" one guard shouted.
   
    "I'm with Princess Mercedes of Cille! I'll be fine!" Lyle replied as he and Mercedes headed into the town square, which was empty. No-one was around, and nothing was going on. No wind blew through the trees. It was almost like time had frozen. Silence befell the two royals for a brief moment.
   
    "We have to find them. Mercedes, you go over to the tavern. I'll check the houses." Lyle said uneasily, ushering Mercedes over to the large tavern. She ran towards the building and opened the door. She looked around, but no-one was in there. Even as she went in and called, she got no replies, or any indication that anyone was there. Her heart stopped. Had everyone been taken already? Were the inhabitants of Shusoran already massacred? She dared not think of it. She stepped outside and ran back to meet up with Lyle, but she could not find him anywhere.
   
    "Lyle? Where are you?" Mercedes called. Silence hit her full in the face. She ran towards one row of houses, calling for Lyle. She still got no answer. Her heart pounding, Mercedes made her way towards the castle, just in case he had gone back there. But he hadn't.
   
    "Oh, for Laya's sake, Lyle! Come out!" she yelled agitatedly, as if she were playing hide and seek with Lyle rather than helping him find his people. Still, no reply came to her. Mercedes clutched at her chest with both hands and looked around the desolate town fearfully. Had Lyle been kidnapped? Had he been killed? Questions buzzed arround her head like flies, but Mercedes tried not to listen to her subconscious thought as she hurried around the town, calling for Lyle.
   
    Several muffled bleeps sounded from near one of the rows of houses. Mercedes gasped and looked around. No-one was there. She ran towards the row of houses where the bleeps had come from and looked around, but she saw nothing. As she turned round to head back to the town square, a small metal contraption stopped her in her tracks. It had a pair of metallic pincers and looked like a strange, scary mechanical crab. Mercedes swallowed.
   
    "Go away!" she shrieked at the strange mechanical crab, but it did not leave. Instead, it lashed out at her with its pincers, and Mercedes had to jerk herself out the way of the wicked-looking devices. She fell on her backside in a panic, and she then used her hands and feet to push herself further back from the crab, but several more mechanical crabs jumped out from behind her, bleeping as they came. Mercedes made a small terrified noise and drew her knees close to her chest. She looked around fearfully. The mechanical crabs were closing in.
   
    "Lyle! Help me!" Mercedes cried out, knowing that she was impuissant to stop the hordes of snapping mechanical crabs. She heard no sound beside the bleeping of the mechanical crabs, and Mercedes felt that each bleep was knocking time off her life. She began to cry, believing that all was lost, and she was going to perish at the hands (or rather, pincers) of merciless mechanical crabs. Her shoulders shook with sobs, and her tears ran in rivulets down her face. The mechanical crabs drew in closer, bleeping and snapping their pincers. One got close enough to nip the young princess's leg, and she shrieked. Several more pincer pinches followed, and Mercedes cried harder as more pain was inflicted.
   
    An electric frazzle sounded from a distance. Mercedes listened to the sound and tried to focus on it whilst trying to block out the pain of pinching pincers from molesting mechanical crabs. Even though she was still terrified and hurt, Mercedes managed to slightly numb the pain of the crabs and concentrated on the electrical frazzling sounds that were coming ever closer. She was terrified and relieved at the same time; relieved that someone could be using a Zan Technique to take out the hordes, but terrified in case the electrical frazzling was to be used on her. As the frazzling noises came closer, Mercedes saw the swish of something white. Seconds later, she saw a glimpse of something green, then a flash of lightning. The bolts rained down and struck the mechanical crabs, frying their circuits and rendering them useless. Not a single bolt came close to the terrified half-Layan princess.
   
    "Miss me?" asked a familiar voice. Mercedes stood up and brushed the dirt off her clothes.
   
    "Lyle, it's you!" she cried happily, wiping the tears from her eyes as Lyle walked up to her. Her joy turned to anger. Then she gave him a nice hard slap across the face. "Why did you leave me?!" she asked, her eyes narrowing.
   
    "Sorry, Mercedes, it was just that whilst I was looking around some of the houses, I was forced to fight my way through the cyborgs." he replied. Mercedes looked at him, then kissed his cheek as if to say she was sorry for slapping him.
   
    "Why didn't you just tell me that in the first place?"
   
    "I was in a panic, and I wanted to get back to you as soon as I could."
   
    "I didn't find anyone." Mercedes hung her head as she spoke, and a few tears sprang in her eyes.
   
    "Neither did I." Lyle said to the young princess quietly. His tone had no emphasis and no emotion. As he was about to say more to Mercedes, a loud stomp sound reverberated through the air.
   
    "What was that?" Mercedes asked in fright. Lyle shrugged.
   
    "I don't know, but it's coming towards us!" the Layan king panicked. He tried to usher Mercedes out of the castle, but she refused to go.



* * *


Several more stomps approached the two shaken royals. A strange fog had settled over the town, and through it, Lyle could just make out a figure approaching him and Mercedes.
   
    "What... what's... wha-- I'm scared..." Mercedes said quietly, gripping Lyle's arm tightly and shivering with fright. The figure came closer to the two royals, stomping as it got closer. The two royals could feel the vibrations from the stomping, and it went through their feet.
   
    "Initiating vicinity scan... 100% complete. Two lifeforms detected." said a computerised voice. Lyle looked ahead, and saw that the figure had emerged from the fog. At first he thought it was a man, but closer inspection revealed him to be a male cyborg. His body gleamed silver, even his face, but he was unusual in the sense that he had bright red hair.
   
    "What do you want?!" Lyle demanded.
   
    "Lifeform analysis initiated. Scanning... 100% complete. Lifeform is human, alignment Layan." the computerised voice said again. Lyle realised that the male cyborg was the owner of the computerised voice. Mercedes said nothing, but she trembled with fright and huddled close to Lyle. A loud beep made her jump, and she let out a terrified shriek.
   
    "Alert! Alert! Layan lifeform detected. Initiating weapon modules." the male cyborg said in that monotonous computerised voice. He held out his arm, and Lyle and Mercedes watched as it transformed into a long blade.
   
    "Stop this craziness at once! I'm ordering you to stop RIGHT NOW!" Lyle ordered, but the male cyborg did not listen. He approached with the blade brandished.
   
    "Alert! Alert! Layan lifeform detected. All Layan lifeforms must be exterminated." The male cyborg came dangerously close to Lyle with the wicked-looking blade. It glinted in the sunlight. Mercedes, who was clinging on to Lyle as tightly as a barnacle, screeched as the blade whooshed down and cut her arm. A sudden pain sliced through her, and she was forced to let go of Lyle in order to stem the bleeding. The cyborg advanced on her and reached out his hand.
   
    "Go away! Leave me alone!" the terrified half-Layan princess shrieked. She backed away from the male cyborg, but her eyes never left him. He did not listen to her entreaties and he took a large step forward, shackling her wrist with his hand and pressing the wicked blade to her throat.
   
    "Get your metal hands off of her!" Lyle yelled, baring his staff at the male cyborg.
   
    "Listen to him! Just let go of me!" Mercedes cried, trying vainly to pull away from the iron grip. Her eyes bulged with fear and tears welled as she struggled to effect her escape. The male cyborg let out a soul-grating metallic laugh as he watched the half-Layan princess attempt vainly to get free. Then he suddenly released his grip on her wrist. Mercedes lurched forward and the wicked blade cut through her neck, nearly severing her jugular. The slim silver chain that held the sapphire pendant around her neck snapped as the half-Layan princess fell to the floor, blood dribbling out of the open wound.
   
    "No!" Lyle cried, rushing forward to try and get to Mercedes. The male cyborg was quicker, kicking the Layan king to one side with a heavy metal foot. Lyle's staff was knocked out of his hand. He quickly scrambled to his feet and tried to grab the staff, but the male cyborg kicked it away from him and simultaneously stopped him from getting to Mercedes. The young princess had one hand to her throat to try and stop the bleeding, but some small drops of blood ran down her neck and stained her pale blue blouse.
   
    "Don't worry... about me..." Mercedes croaked, her voice almost inaudible. She coughed, and several drops of blood spattered on the grass where she lay.
   
    "No, Mercedes! Don't die on me!" Lyle cried, scrabbling to his feet and hurrying over to a green glint he had seen. The male cyborg made no attempt to stop him, so the Layan king was able to investigate the green glint and he found that it was his staff. He picked it up, then he stood up. The male cyborg had one hand over Mercedes's throat, and it looked like he was about to strangle her.
   
    "The girl dies, along with you." the computerised voice of the male cyborg said cruelly. The intonation grated against both Lyle and Mercedes, but only Lyle had the strength to retaliate. The Layan king charged forward, thrusting his staff towards the male cyborg and muttering several incomprehensible words under his breath. A large fireball shot out of the emerald on top of the staff and impacted the male cyborg, but it did nothing to make him release Mercedes. Lyle noticed that the cyborg's grip was tightening around the half-Layan princess's neck, and he had to act fast. He racked his brains. How could he make the male cyborg let go of Mercedes, but not harm her in any way?
   
    "Please... Save yourself..." Mercedes mumbled. Lyle noticed a tear run down her cheek. The young princess coughed once, twice, three times, and blood sprayed out. She grabbed hold of the male cyborg's arm with one weak hand, and attempted to shift it away from her neck. Whilst she did this, Lyle crept forward with his staff in one hand. He tapped the cyborg's back with it and quickly muttered a few words under his breath. The cyborg jerked violently and loosened his grip on Mercedes. The young princess quickly moved out of the way and watched as the cyborg jerked less violently and fell to the floor, motionless.
   
    "Right, that's sorted." Lyle said, wiping his forehead with one hand. As he began to stand up, he saw Mercedes collapse to the floor. He hurried himself to his feet and rushed over to her. He knelt down and looked at her.
   
    "Mercedes! Are you... are you going to be OK?" he asked, concerned. He felt tears burning the back of his throat. Mercedes reached a hand slowly to his cheek and stroked it with one semi-limp finger.
   
    "No, no... I think... I think I'm going to die..." the young princess said in a barely audible voice. Lyle took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
   
    "I can save you, Mercedes. Let me cast the Resta technique on you."
   
    "You won't... you won't be able to save me... just go, please..."
   
    "Mercedes, I am not leaving you here. I'm gonna help you." A tear ran down Lyle's cheek as he spoke these words. Whilst he knew he could save Mercedes, he also knew that the Resta Technique is a rather slow and tedious way of doing that. He placed his free hand on the young princess's neck, nearby the wound, and spoke a few soft words. The wound began to close up slowly, but it was still bleeding.
   
    "Just go..." Mercedes said weakly. She turned her head to one side slowly, and several tears ran down her face. Lyle felt her arm go limp. He brushed away a few locks of hair that were obscuring her face, and he noticed that her eyes were closed. He gingerly stroked her cheek with the back of his hand, and when she made no response, he began to look concerned. His eyes were wet with tears as he checked the young princess for any signs of life. Her breathing had ceased and her heartbeat was absent. In desperation, Lyle clamped his hands together and began to press down on her chest to see if he could get her heart to beat again. He listened, but he could not hear a heartbeat. He tried again. Nothing.
   
    "No..." he said slowly, covering his eyes with his hands and crying bitterly. What was he going to tell her brother? Meanwhile, the male cyborg was getting up. Lyle's manoeuvre had only disoriented him, so he ran over, and with one swift movement, he swiped up the lifeless form of Mercedes and bore her out of the desolate town. Lyle noticed this and stopped crying. He wiped his hands and looked towards a glinting, disappearing shape in the distance.
   
    "Come back, you jerk!" Lyle spat, but the male cyborg did not turn around, or stop. The Layan king wiped the last of his tears away. He looked down at the ground and saw the sapphire pendant glittering on the ground. He picked it up and clasped it in his hand, then he hurried out of the town to catch up with Prince Ayn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART II: Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

Prince Ayn looked towards the gate of the town of Shusoran, wondering whether King Lyle and Princess Mercedes were still safe. He was about to head into the town when he saw King Lyle running out, staff in hand.
   
    "Lyle, you're OK! Where's my sister?" he called. Lyle stopped and turned round to face Ayn. He hung his head and stepped forward to the half-Layan prince in silence. Lyle took Ayn's hand and dropped the sapphire pendant he was carrying into the half-Layan prince's palm. Ayn felt tears in his eyes.
   
    "This is my sister's pendant! What happened to her?!" he gasped. Lyle embraced the young prince and told him that Mercedes had been kidnapped by a cyborg with bright red hair. He did not mention that she was lifeless when she was kidnapped.
   
    "I tried to stop the cyborg, but he was too strong. He stopped me before I could get Mercedes out safely."
   
    "We need to get to the others." Ayn began to head towards a waiting boat, but Lyle stopped him.
   
    "We need to find Ryan Quisto. He's having a problem with Emperor Lune, so we should help him." Ayn was outraged. He reached for the sword that was in the scabbard attached to his belt and rested his hand on the hilt.
   
    "You think sorting Emperor Lune out is more important than trying to save my sister?! You don't understand! Well, fine! You go to Ryan, I'm going to find my sister!" Ayn began to storm towards the boat.
   
    "Hey, Ayn! Wait! We should let the others know we're OK first!" Lyle called.
   
    "You tell them! I've got to go and rescue Mercedes before that cyborg does something terrible to her!" the young half-Layan prince snapped. He boarded the boat and sat down. As Lyle was about to head off to another boat to meet up with Ryan, he felt a mental stirring in his mind.
   
    Lyle, Emperor Lune is not as intimidating a threat as you may think. He has done unforgivable things, but he is not the real problem. The cyborg that kidnapped Princess Mercedes is in fact the leader of a group of very devout followers of Orakio, and they wish to eradicate all humans from Samesina, whether they are Orakian or Layan. You should help Prince Ayn to rescue his sister. I will send word to your friends that you and Prince Ayn are well, and that you have embarked on this quest to rescue Princess Mercedes. said the telepathic voice of Laya.
   
    Can you help us in any way? Lyle asked.
   
    Yes, you should head to the town of Divisia in the Salvadayna Province. There you should find the Framalik Tavern. I know of a bounty hunter who is seeking the cyborg that kidnapped Princess Mercedes, and she may be able to help you. Good luck! Laya's voice faded. Lyle headed to the boat where Prince Ayn was and told him the information that Laya had conveyed to him.
   
    "So, we need to get to the Salvadayna Province. Let's go." Ayn said. He ordered the boat's skipper to sail them to the Salvadayna Province, and then they were off.
   
    Meanwhile, in an unknown cave in the Salvadayna Province...
   
    "I heard a Layan was captured by the cyborg, Siren."
   
    "Ah yes, the young princess of Cille. She is but half-Layan."
   
    "My Emperor, should we go after her and try to rescue her?"
   
    "It would be suicide to do so. Siren is incredibly strong, and incredibly fast. Did you notice that no-one was left in the town of Shusoran after the Royal Family fled? Siren slaughtered them all, but his evil bidding is not complete."
   
    "He wants the crown prince of Cille too? And the princess of Shusoran?"
   
    "No, he wants every last human slaughtered like cattle. We have free will. All humans have free will. Siren resents such free wil, therefore he wants to remove it and build his own army."
   
    "My Emperor! Why would he want to build an army?"
   
    "He wants an army ready for the final awakening. Then... I dread to think what he'll do!"
   
    "The final awakening?"
   
    "It has been said, that in the Samesinian Chronicle, one male cyborg will recite the Ritual of Shadows, and in doing so, he will bring forth the most ancient evil that Samesina has ever seen."
   
    "Is that what he wants that young princess for? A sacrifice for the ancient evil?"
   
    "Not a sacrifice, but a vessel. A vessel to transport this evil out of its seal and into the world. Our only hope is to find the chosen heroes of light and thwart the evil when it comes."
   
    "Why not just thwart Siren and completely foil the plan, my Emperor?"
   
    "Siren is too strong. We can never hope to beat him. He's more powerful than all my forces put together eight times over."
   
    "Then Samesina is doomed for all eternity..."



* * *


The boat docked at the port to the west of the town of Divisia. Prince Ayn and King Lyle disembarked and thanked the skipper.
   
    "Just to tell you, Divisia is split into North and South Divisia. You'll be going into North Divisia from this side, but you should be OK, right?" the skipper explained.
   
    "Yeah, we'll be fine." Lyle replied. The skipper waved at him, and he waved back. Ayn then began to head for the gate of North Divisia, and Lyle followed him.
   
    The northern part of the town of Divisia was large and spacious, with a huge paved central square rimmed by streets of quaint houses. People were walking around, going about their daily businesses. Some people carried baskets full of food to their houses, while others set up market stalls. Small gatherings of children shouted and played in the square. Ayn and Lyle walked towards the square, and they heard the shouts of people selling their wares at the market stalls. A man in a robe tottered beside the twosome, trying to persuade them to buy his finely crafted pots. Lyle declined his offer and the man went on his way. Two young women tried to get Ayn's attention by trying to sell him hand-woven silk, but he took no notice of them. The young prince turned to face Lyle.
   
    "What was that tavern we were supposed to find again?" he asked.
   
    "Yeah, it was the Framalik Tavern. Apparently we're supposed to meet a bounty hunter there who knows about the cyborg who took your sister." Lyle replied.
   
    "Where is this durn tavern, then?"
   
    "I don't know! Whaddya think I am, a walking map?!"
   
    "Well, I just thought..."
   
    "Let's ask the local people."
   
    "Those peasants won't know a thing." Ayn's voice was bitter. Lyle rounded on him.
   
    "Will you leave the locals alone?! Fine, I'll go and ask somebody, you wait here!" Lyle's command was stark. Ayn obeyed and sat down where he was, looking around the town. Meanwhile, the Layan king asked two men running a sword stall where the Framalik Tavern was, and they told him is was in the westmost street of North Divisia. Lyle smiled and tipped the two men 50 meseta each. He then headed back to where Ayn was and told him what he had found out. The young prince stood up and began to head for the westmost street, with Lyle following behind, and sure enough, there was the Framalik Tavern.
   
    "See, Ayn? These 'peasants' aren't as dumb as you think." Lyle said hopefully.
   
    "Shut up." Ayn snapped in disgust. Lyle merely shook his head and went inside the tavern. He looked around at the people sat there, but he could not see the bounty hunter that Laya had mentioned. He was about to head out when he was beckoned to a small table in the corner by a young-looking woman dressed in a black leather catsuit. She had hazel eyes and deep-coloured hair, the same colour as red wine. She was tall and slightly curvy, and she wore no make-up. A small dagger was concealed in a wide black belt around her waist.
   
    "I take it that the great leader Laya sent you here." she said in a slightly sensual voice. She reached up towards her deep burgundy hair and took out a large black clip that pinned it up. Her slightly wavy hair fell down her shoulders like a waterfall of red wine.
   
    "Yeah, she did." Lyle said slowly.
   
    "You're after the red haired cyborg."
   
    "Yeah."
   
    "That cyborg kidnapped my sister!" Ayn interjected. Lyle whirled on the young prince and silenced him. The burgundy-haired woman paced forward towards Ayn and studied him with her hazel eyes.
   
    "I did see him escape Samesina with a young woman in tow. I can help you... if the price is right. My name's Isabella Carlos, and I'm a bounty hunter." Isabella said, reaching her hand towards Ayn. "And you are...?"
   
    "Oh, I'm Ayn Nestetine, Prince of Cille." Ayn said, shaking Isabella's hand. She paced towards Lyle.
   
    "And you?"
   
    "Lyle Draconia, King of Shusoran." Lyle gave Isabella a warm handshake. She smiled at him, then told the two of them to sit down at the table.
   
    "If you're trying to go against that cyborg yourselves, you're wasting your time... and your lives. He is very very powerful." Isabella stated the fact in a low voice.
   
    "I know. He stopped me rescuing Prince Ayn's sister."
   
    "I see, Lyle. You don't mind me not being formal?"
   
    "Not at all, Isabella."
   
    "That OK with you as well, Ayn?"
   
    "Yep, it's fine." Isabella nodded, then she put a brown rucksack onto the table. She rummaged through it for a few moments and pulled out several rolled-up papers. She unrolled one of them and laid it flat on the table, then she unrolled a second sheet of paper and laid it over the first.
   
    "OK, here's some info I've gathered on that cyborg. It appears his name is Siren, and he is intending to spread death and destruction everywhere he goes. He's already done so to your towns, the towns of Shusoran and Cille. He won't stop until every last human is removed from this world."
   
    "But... my sister Mercedes... we have to stop him!"
   
    "Ayn, to try and overthrow Siren now would mean your untimely death. I can do the deed for you."
   
    "Isabella! What makes you so confident you'll get him?"
   
    "I have powerful allies. Anyway, I normally charge for my services, but if you're prepared to gather me a few things, I'll take that as payment. So, will you do it?"
   
    "It depends on what you want us to do."
   
    "It's either you help me, or your sister will stay at the mercy of Siren. Or distinct lack thereof."
   
    "Right, fine. We'll do it."
   
    "Great! Now, I need you to gather me three gems, Fraiya's Ruby, Sophitia's Emerald and Larnel's Sapphire."
   
    "Huh?!"
   
    "OK, well, Fraiya's Ruby is named after a passage in the Samesinian Chronicle, where a young girl named Fraiya used a powerful technique to seal her magical powers into a ruby. It's said that the ruby glows like fire in moonlight."
   
    "Go on..."
   
    "Sophitia's Emerald is named after another passage in the Samesinian Chronicle, where a warrior princess named Sophitia wore a gem on her belt buckle. It was said that the gem protected her from everything evil that came in her way."
   
    "OK..."
   
    "Larnel's Sapphire is only briefly mentioned in the Samesinian Chronicle, but has a huge place in the Tome of Layan Lore. The story tells of a sorcerer named Larnel who used a sapphire to see the future. It's said that Larnel's descendants can use the sapphire as he had done."
   
    "I'm not sure we needed the history lesson, Isabella." Ayn said.
   
    "Basically, Fraiya's Ruby represents magical power, Sophitia's Emerald represents powerful defenses and Larnel's Sapphire represents anticipation of your enemy's moves. Hopefully, if I have the three gems, I can easily beat Siren!" Isabella's voice was confident.
   
    "You never know, we could go off and beat Siren without you."
   
    "Ah, but you can't. There is a fourth thing you need in order to fully use the gems' power, but I'm not saying anything." Isabella looked at Lyle. "And if you're planning to use your Telepatha Technique, it won't work."
   
    "Alright, alright! We'll go find your gems!" Lyle said impatiently. He began to lead Ayn out of the tavern, but just as they were about to leave, Isabella called to them.
   
    "Don't forget, you only have 12 hours to find all three gems and bring them back here! If you arrive even one minute late, I might not help you!" Lyle shook his head and walked out the tavern, closely followed by Ayn.
   
    Meanwhile, in the unknown cave in the Salvadayna Province...
   
    "Excellent, the prince of Cille and the king of Shusoran are working for us. It was a good idea to send Isabella Carlos to do our bidding."
   
    "But will they get all three gems in twelve hours? They don't seem too well-motivated."
   
    "They may not exactly be the best of helpers, but they will have to do."
   
    "I guess that we have to watch and see whether they manage the deed?"
   
    "Yes, that is all we can do. You there, go and figure out the next part of our plan to overthrow Siren."
   
    "We can't do it without the gems and the Weapon."
   
    "I know, but we must be prepared. Go, now!" There was silence for a few brief moments.
   
    "My Emperor, Siren is getting restless. He is beginning the preparations for the Ritual of Shadows. He is setting up the Circle of Darkness as we speak."
   
    "We don't even have twelve hours! We're left with about five now!"
   
    "I will tell Isabella immediately."
   
    "Hurry! If we don't, then Siren will have won this battle before it has even started!"



* * *


Prince Ayn and King Lyle left the Framalik Tavern with frowns on their faces. Twelve hours to find three gems that they didn't know about. Where were they to start?
   
    "Where should we go first?" Ayn asked.
   
    "We can't search willy-nilly for the gems! If we do that, those twelve hours will be up before we even find one gem. Let me ask Laya for help." Lyle replied. He knelt on the ground and began a slow chant in the language of ancient Samesina. As he finished the compelling, beautiful chant, he felt Laya's mental presence in his subconscious.
   
    Ah, so you seek Fraiya's Ruby, Sophitia's Emerald and Larnel's Sapphire. I can help you find the gems.
   
    I was about to tell you that, Laya...
   
    Lyle, you forget. I can read your mind. Anyway, the nearest gem to your current location is Larnel's Sapphire. It is hidden in the basement of Castle Divisia. You did see Castle Divisia on your way to the Framalik Tavern, did you not?
   
    Yeah, I did.
   
    That is where you shall find Larnel's Sapphire. But be careful! The guards of Castle Divisia are elite warriors. They will strike you down should they see you take the gem.
   
    We can take it.
   
    There is no deterring you, is there, Lyle?
   
    Nope, Laya. Anyway, I'd better go get that gem.
   
    Yes, you should make haste.
Laya's voice faded. Lyle faced Ayn and told him that Larnel's Sapphire was in Castle Divisia.
   
    "Then what are we waiting for? Let's GO!" Ayn began to march in the direction of Castle Divisia, and Lyle followed him. As they approached the castle walls, the large wrought iron gates slammed shut before them.
   
    "They don't like visitors, it seems..." Lyle wondered. He began to look at the walls.
   
    "We'll just have to break in. We don't have time to wait!" Ayn's voice showed his impatience. The young prince spotted some ivy growing over the side of the wall to the left of the large gate. He paced over to it, tested that it would hold his weight, and began to ascend. The climb was hard, due to the lack of proper footholds, and treacherous, as there was nothing to break Ayn's fall should his grip on the ivy falter. Halfway up the wall, Ayn began to feel out of breath. There was no small ledge he could use to take the weight off his arms for a short while. His forehead was soaked in perspiration, making the fringe of his turquoise-blue hair stick to his face. He knew he had to keep climbing, as fatigue was beginning to set in. There was no way he was going to fall to his death now. He began to climb again, but his arms were burning with pain. His legs ached. His feet ached. His hands ached. He felt his soul aching. But the young prince was determined. He carried on the climb and eventually reached the top. He pulled together what little energy he had left and hauled himself over the top of the wall. He rolled slightly to one side and breathed deeply, trying to regain his breath.
   
    Lyle, on the other hand, did not have to endure the energy-sapping climb. He spoke a soft command and called his inner dragon to attention. He felt the great brown dragon wings forming behind him, and he leapt upwards, flapping the huge wings to get himself to the top of the wall. Ayn looked up and saw him touch down.
   
    "Why didn't you say so before?!" he gasped. Lyle uttered a short command and the dragon wings dissipated. He strode over to Ayn and helped him up.
   
    "I thought you needed the exercise." said Lyle with a cheeky grin. Ayn scowled, but then remembered he had no time to argue. He merely muttered something about unnecessary time wasting and began to head across the top of the wall. He crossed over to a set of stairs and began to descend, with Lyle following behind him. They found themselves in a large open courtyard, with guards patrolling around it.
   
    "We'll never get past all of them!" Ayn said, sounding husky because he was still out of breath.
   
    "We can, silly." Lyle replied. He spoke several words, and the dragon wings formed behind him. He grabbed hold of Ayn and began to fly over the patrolling guards. They looked up for a brief second, but then resumed patrolling. When Lyle landed, he let go of Ayn, then uttered the command to dissipate the dragon wings. He headed into the castle through the large wooden doors, but Ayn did not follow. He stayed outside and sat down on the ground. Lyle went back outside.
   
    "Come on, Ayn! We're better off sticking together. The guards might capture you if you stay there."
   
    "I don't particularly want to go in there. You go get the gem. I just want some time alone." Ayn's voice was sharp, but Lyle could hear a slight note of sorrow.
   
    "I'd rather you didn't. Those guards look nasty."
   
    "I just want... I just need some time... alone. Alone, so I can..." Ayn wiped several tears from his cheek.
   
    "OK, Ayn. But stay outta sight of the guards. I don't want to be wasting any more time." Lyle hurried into the castle. Ayn sat down on the ground again and took out the sapphire pendant that was in his pocket. He clutched it close to his chest and began to sob.
   
    "Oh, Mercedes... I hope you're OK..." The young prince began to cry bitterly and he buried his head in his hands, sobbing noisily.
   
    Meanwhile, Lyle was scouring the castle, looking for any clues as to where Larnel's Sapphire was. He headed towards a flight of stairs that led into the castle basement. His hunch told him that the valuable gem was most likely to be hidden there.
   
    When he got into the basement, it was very dark. He could barely see what was in front of him. He reached out with one hand and touched the wall. He ran his hand along the wall and felt some cold, metal object. He traced his fingers upwards and the cold metal he felt was no longer there. He felt wood under his fingers now, so he reached a bit further towards the wooden object and picked it out of the metal object that was holding it. On closer inspection, Lyle found it was a torch. He cast a Foi Technique on the bundle of rags at one end. The fire caught instantly and a yellowish glow was thrown out, illuminating part of the dark passage. Lyle began to walk forward slowly, holding the lit torch in one hand and his staff in the other. The passages in the basement were very narrow and twisty, and Lyle had to squeeze through some of them. Eventually the passage he was following opened up into a large chamber that was lit with strange blue torches. There was a pedestal in the centre, and set in it was a large blue sapphire. It glinted in the torchlight.
   
    "Come to me... come..." hissed a voice in the air. Lyle whirled round and held his torch up defensively. He looked around again. He saw nothing but the ethereal flickering of the blue torchlight that surrounded him and the yellow glow of his own torch. He was forced to drop the torch as he felt a strange throbbing in his head. Lyle felt a stabbing pain at the back of his eyes. What was going on?
   
    "I command you to come to me!" the unknown, eerie voice snarled. Lyle crumpled to the floor, dropping his staff on the ground and clutching his head in agony. The pain was getting more intense by the second; he felt as if his head was being crushed. Tears began to well as the agony consumed him.
   
    "Laya... help me..." he sobbed before collapsing onto the floor.
   
    Lyle, you are in pain! What is happening to you? Lyle felt relieved at the sound of Laya's voice, but his agony had not subsided one bit. He could not even concentrate enough to telepathically speak to her.
   
    "I... I don't know... but... it hurts..." he whispered, for he feared that if he spoke any louder his mind would shatter into a million pieces.
   
    Larnel's Sapphire is nearby here, Lyle. It appears that you are affected by its magical influence. That gem has some strange telepathic powers embedded in it.
   
    "How can I... can't... even... get up..."
   
    You need some way to block out the gem's telepathic influence on you. There is a way to do that; the technique you need is the polar opposite of the Telepatha Technique.
   
    "Please... tell me..."
   
    The Mindblock Technique. This will stop the gem's influence on you.
   
    "I can't... c-concentrate..."
   
    Come, Lyle. You have to do this. Do you want to lie there all day and make yourself a sitting, well, lying target for the guards of Castle Divisia? I can help you. You focus your magic energy, and I will help you cast the Mindblock Technique.
   
    "I-I'll try..." Lyle closed his eyes and tried to ignore the pain that was slicing right through his head like superheated knives. He focussed the magic energy as best as he could manage, but even though he was trying not to concentrate too hard, the concentration he was using was making his head hurt even more. He cried out as he focussed more power.
   
    I am nearly finished. The influence should end soon. I need you to focus just a bit more. Laya's voice was calm, but a note in her voice told Lyle that this might not work as well. He focussed that bit more, and more pain consumed him. Then he felt the Mindblock Technique kicking in. The pain in his head began to ease, and he was able to focus the technique himself. He stood up and picked up his staff. He made sure to focus the technique just right so that it blocked out the telepathic influence from the gem, but not his telepathic communication line with Laya.
   
    Watch out, Lyle! I sense a magical forcefield around the gem. If you touch it, it will ruin your concentration and then the telepathic influence of the gem will attack you again. I will take the forcefield off it whilst you get it. Laya said, with a tone of warning.
   
    You can do that?
   
    Yes, of course. Even though I may not have the gift of a physical body, I can channel my power through you. Now walk up to the gem and reach out as if you are about to take it. I can then cast a technique that will subdue the forcefield so you can pick it up.
Lyle obeyed her command and edged forward towards the pedestal where the gem was, stretching out his hand. He felt a weird magical pulsing as he moved closer, but he tried not to think about it. The magical throb began to fade, and Lyle reached for the gem. He picked it out of the pedestal and held it aloft before him. It glittered in the ethereal light. He began to release the Mindblock Technique he had been focussing, and he found that no telepathic influence was coming from the gem. He released the technique completely, but he was confused. Why did the magical influence not attack him again?
   
    You are one of them, Lyle. It appears that you are in fact a descendant of the sorcerer Larnel. His sapphire was protected with a powerful enchantment which made it inert to those who were not his descendants. The telepathic influence on the gem was a test - Larnel wanted to test the nerve of his descendants. Until you came along, his descendants had failed. You, on the other hand, managed to steel yourself and take hold of the gem.
   
    But I cheated a bit though - you helped me out.
   
    Ah, but you were determined to get the gem regardless. The enchantment that Larnel had placed on the gem would only be broken if one of his descendants touched it. By just placing your finger on the gem you broke the enchantment.
   
    Laya, there are still two more gems to find. We only have around eight hours left to find the rest of them.
   
    They are nearby. Fraiya's Ruby is also in the dungeon of Castle Divisia. But, Sophitia's Emerald has been with you all this time. Do not panic yourself.
   
    What are you on about?
   
    Lyle, that emerald you have on your belt buckle. You are wearing it just as Sophitia did in the Samesinian Chronicle.
   
    But that's not...
   
    It is, Lyle. I feel its magical energy. So you already have two gems and you have lots of time left!
   
    OK then, so help me find Fraiya's Ruby.
Lyle put away the sapphire and he picked up his torch. It had nearly burnt out. He dropped it again and picked up one of the strange blue torches from its holder on the wall. He held it forward and began to head through a narrow passage that smelled musty. The walls were covered in green moss and they felt damp. The squeaking and scurrying of rats echoed through the passages. Lyle progressed through the passages, and he noticed that the musty smell was becoming much more pungent. He saw the passage open into a round chamber. His torch burned out without warning. Lyle discarded it and edged forward cautiously. He moved further in, and he felt a stir in his mind.
   
    Lyle, it is here. I can feel that Fraiya's Ruby is nearby. But be careful! I sense a pernicious presence very near to you. Laya's voice was firm, but Lyle heard the note of concern. He held his staff in front of him and edged just a little further towards the centre of the room. Something kicked his leg from beneath him and he fell heavily backwards onto the hard ground. His staff fell out of his hand and hit him on the head, dazing him. He blinked rapidly to try and clear his head, but it did not work. He felt a thud on his stomach that knocked the wind from him. He tried to right himself, and he rolled over to one side. Now he began to realise why having only one eye was a disadvantage. It made it a little more difficult for him to judge where things were. He pushed himself to his hands and knees, but he felt a sharp kick in his side and he slumped back onto the floor.
   
    Lyle, you are struggling! You must find what is doing this to you! Laya exclaimed.
   
    I can't see it anywhere!
   
    You should cast the Rafoi Technique. The range of the fireball it creates will cover that area, and you should be able to stop whatever it is that's attacking you.
Lyle picked up his staff and pulled himself into a kneeling position. He cast the Rafoi Technique. The fireball expanded and engulfed the chamber, then Lyle heard a high-pitched scream. He muttered a few words under his breath and found that the source of the scream was in fact a young girl. The hem of her white dress was on fire, but Lyle patted it out with a fold of his cape. The girl was terrified.
   
    "That fire... was that you?" she asked in a small voice.
   
    "Yeah, it was. Sorry if I startled you." Lyle replied. He stood up and looked down at the girl. She looked up at him.
   
    "You're looking for something, aren't you?"
   
    "Yeah, I am."
   
    "What is it?"
   
    "It's a gem called Fraiya's Ruby. Have you heard of it?"
   
    "I have." The girl reached into one of the pockets of her dress and pulled out a purple velvet bag. She held it towards Lyle and beckoned him to open it. He did so, then tipped out the contents into his hand. It was a large fiery red gem that glowed slightly. Lyle thanked the girl and used his staff to trace a circle into the dust on the ground. He stepped inside it and chanted a few words. The girl watched as a purple glow surrounded Lyle and he disappeared.
   
    Meanwhile, Prince Ayn was outside Castle Divisia, still hoping that his sister was OK. He saw a flash of fiery mauve in the sky, and he looked to his right and saw that Lyle was stood next to him.
   
    "Did you find one of the gems?" the young prince asked.
   
    "No..." Lyle began, but Ayn cut him short.
   
    "You were in there FOUR HOURS and you didn't find a durn thing?!"
   
    "What I was going to say was that I struck it lucky. I found not one, not two, but all three gems down there."
   
    "Why didn't you say so in the first place?!"
   
    "I was about to!"
   
    "Anyway, we need to go back to the tavern and tell Isabella."
   
    "I don't really trust her."
   
    "Neither do I, but she's our only lifeline that we have to help us find my sister Mercedes."
   
    "You're right, Ayn. Let's go." Lyle uttered a short command under his breath and called his inner dragon to attention. The brown dragon wings unfurled behind him, and he grabbed Ayn around the waist and took off over the patrolling guards and over the walls of Castle Divisia. He touched down by the Framalik Tavern and uttered the command for his inner dragon to stand down, and the dragon wings dissipated. He and Prince Ayn then hurried into the tavern.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART II: Chapter Three

 

 

 

 

The Framalik Tavern was empty. Lyle and Ayn went further inside, but everyone had gone. They couldn't even find Isabella. They searched all around, in the main area of the tavern, behind the bar... even in the toilets. No-one was around.
   
    "Isabella never said anything about us meeting her elsewhere." Ayn pointed out.
   
    "Exactly, but why did she take off?" Lyle wondered.
   
    "We should never have trusted her." Ayn clapped his palm to his face and sighed deeply. His sister was still in danger, and now he had lost his lifeline. He looked down at the ground and saw smashed glass everywhere. He pointed it out to Lyle, but he did not seem interested. He was looking at a piece of paper held against a wall with a small jewelled dagger.
   
    "Ayn, look at this." Lyle said, pulling on the young prince's arm. Ayn looked at the paper and saw an untidy scrawled message on it. It read:
   
    I had to go because Siren was hunting me down. He knows of my plan. I am hiding in the main province of Laya's forces, in the birth town of the great sorceress. Hurry - time is of the essence.
   
    "Not even a name." Ayn said in a monotone.
   
    "And a riddle as well?" Lyle asked himself. He scratched his head and thought about the riddle. The main province of Laya's forces. The birth town of the great sorceress. He knew they pieced together somehow, but he could not figure out how. He felt a mental presence in his subconscious.
   
    The message is referring to the town of Shusoran. I was born and raised there, and it was from there that I fought against Orakio and his forces. Laya said in Lyle's mind.
   
    But... Siren destroyed Shusoran's people. Why would someone go to hide there?
   
    They believe that Siren would not attack there again. But he is not a predictable one. You should hurry to the town and find out who is hiding there. They could be the key to defeating that terrible cyborg, and to saving Prince Ayn's sister.

   
    "Lyle, you OK? You look a bit out of it." Ayn said. Lyle blinked and looked the prince in the eye.
   
    "Sorry, I was thinking about this riddle. I think it means the town of Shusoran."
   
    "But... but it was destroyed, wasn't it?"
   
    "Yeah, but we don't have time to think about it. We have to check it out, and we also have to find Isabella soon. Let's go outside, I have an idea that'll get us to Shusoran quickly." Ayn nodded and followed Lyle outside. He was standing in a rough circle that had been made out of small stones. The young prince stepped into the circle. Lyle chanted a few words and cast the Ryuka Technique. The stone circle glowed lilac, then mauve, then vivid violet. When the glow had died down, Ayn and Lyle had disappeared.
   
    Meanwhile, in the unknown cave in the Salvadayna Province...
   
    "They have the gems, my Emperor."
   
    "But they took too long. Siren has already begun the Ritual of Shadows."
   
    "There is still a chance that they can thwart it."
   
    "Not now. Even with the three gems and the Weapon, Siren will not be defeated. It is fruitless."
   
    "We can't give up hope! They could still do it!"
   
    "They cannot. They only have the gems. Isabella has the Weapon. Without the Weapon, the gems are useless."
   
    "Siren has only just completed the Circle of Darkness. He still has to complete the Circle of Destruction, the Circle of Sorrow and the Circle of Death. He can't start the Ritual until all four Circles are complete." There was a pause.
   
    "Siren has a companion, and now the Circle of Sorrow and the Circle of Destruction are complete!" There was a combined gasp.
   
    "We have no time! Once the Circle of Death is complete, then Siren will have done all the necessary preparations for the Ritual of Shadows!"
   
    "We must try to halt the completion of the fourth Circle, and try to sabotage the other three."
   
    "You would have me send my elite forces on a suicide mission? We cannot do anything until we have the gems."
   
    "My Emperor, he is right. We have to step in and do something. We must give the Prince of Cille and the King of Shusoran more time!"
   
    "It is too dangerous! We cannot do it!"
   
    "I thought we laughed in the face of danger, Emperor."
   
    "I have seen what Siren is capable of. I am not trying to be a coward."
   
    "No! We're not gonna sit around! We're doing this!"
   
    "Very well, if you wish to act rash and waste your lives, so be it!"
   
    "We're trying to stop Siren."
   
    "I will not be sympathetic if you return injured. Go now, go and try to stop Siren if you can."



* * *


A flash of mauve light streaked over the empty, desolate town of Shusoran, leaving Prince Ayn and King Lyle stood in the bleak town square. They looked around and tried to see if they could find anyone, but no-one was there. Ayn walked ahead of Lyle to a patch of grass that was slightly spattered with blood. It had dried on the blades and made the grass look like part of a piece of macabre art. Lyle walked over and saw what the prince was looking at. He felt a tear in his eye.
   
    "Lyle, is something wrong?" Ayn asked. Lyle did not reply, but merely looked down at the grass and felt a tear run down his cheek. Ayn asked again, and this time Lyle said something very quietly.
   
    "This... this was where..." but the Layan king could not continue. He wiped away his tears and knelt down in front of the grass.
   
    "This was where what?" Ayn asked carefully.
   
    "This... was where your sister... was hurt... and where she was kidnapped..." Lyle replied in a pained voice. He began to sob bitterly, and through his tears he said, "I couldn't do anything... to save her... Siren... too fast..."
   
    "Don't blame yourself. This was Siren's fault, not yours." Ayn took a white handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to Lyle, who wiped his eyes with it and handed it back to the prince. He sniffed up and got to his feet.
   
    "We've gotta find Isabella soon." Lyle said, trying to focus on the task in hand. He walked towards one of the buildings, and Ayn followed close behind him. Someone was in there. Lyle waved and knocked on the window. The door opened slowly and someone stepped out.
   
    "You're too late." said the stern voice of Isabella.
   
    "You gave us twelve hours. We only took five." Lyle reminded her.
   
    "Look, Siren was moving quicker than I'd originally thought. We're possibly too late to stop him now."
   
    "WE HAVE TO DO THIS!" Ayn bellowed. Isabella gasped.
   
    "Like I said, it's probably too late."
   
    "I'm NOT going to sit around and let Siren kill my sister!" Ayn was fuming now, and Lyle had to try and calm him. Isabella sighed and tried to think of what to do for a strategy. She pulled out a dagger from her belt. The blade was silvery white, and had a wooden hilt. There were three hollows in one side. She held it towards the young prince, who took it and looked at it.
   
    "That," Isabella explained, "is the sacred Weapon that was handed down through the generations. That is the fourth thing that you need to use with the gems."
   
    "Weapon, huh." Ayn was unimpressed.
   
    "This sacred Weapon, when it has the power of all three gems, has the power to cut down any kind of dark energy as long as the wielder is of a pure and righteous heart." Isabella pointed out that the three hollows in the hilt were where the three gems were placed. Lyle gave each gem to Ayn, and he fitted one into each hollow. Once the last gem was fitted into the last hollow, the blade began to glow with a bright white light.
   
    "You're the right one to wield the Weapon. That light wouldn't appear otherwise." Isabella said.
   
    "But now what? We don't know where Siren is!" Ayn cried. He felt tears well in his eyes. "We need to hurry or else Siren will..."
   
    "Come now, Ayn. Don't get upset. My friends know where Siren is. We need to get to them quickly though. They're hiding out in a cave in the Salvadayna Province called the Illusion Cave."
   
    "Then let's go there! Come on!" Ayn began to hurry Isabella out of the building, but she pulled him back.
   
    "Time is of the essence. We need to use the Ryuka Technique." she said to him. He nodded and asked Lyle if he could cast one.
   
    "Well, let's get on down to that cave!" Lyle traced a circle in the ground with his staff, and told Ayn and Isabella to stand in it. He muttered a few words and the circle glowed bright purple, and when the glow had disappeared, it had taken the threesome with it.
   
    A stream of purple light flashed across the sky over the Salvadayna Province and crashed into the ground. Lyle, Ayn and Isabella were stood where the light had landed.
   
    "Ah. Here it is." Isabella said, pointing out the jagged entrance of a cave. She beckoned to Lyle and Ayn, and they followed her into the cave. It was very dark, and the threesome could barely see what was in front of them. Isabella felt around on the floor and picked up a thick wooden stick with a bundle of rags tied to one end. She held it towards Lyle.
   
    "Cast a Foi Technique on the rags." she said. Lyle did so, and instantly the fire caught and the passage in the cave was now illuminated by the flickering torchlight. Isabella stepped forward carefully, looking to her right and left as he advanced. Ayn and Lyle took care to stay close to her so they did not get lost. Ayn felt a drop of water from a stalactite drip down his back. He shivered slightly and moved on. Isabella stopped for a second and saw that they could not go on.
   
    "We can't cross the river here. One of my friends destroyed the bridge so that no-one could get to them. But, if we follow the river down, we can get to them." she said.
   
    "Do we have to go into that water?" Ayn asked.
   
    "Unfortunately, yes. But that means I can't keep hold of this torch. Lyle, do you know a technique that can make a ball of light that we can follow?"
   
    "I can make the end of my staff glow with a technique, if that helps." Lyle replied.
   
    "OK, can you cast it?" Isabella looked at Lyle, who nodded. He chanted a few words under his breath and cast the technique that made the emerald on his staff glow with a soft green light. When he had finished, Isabella motioned to Ayn.
   
    "Right, you jump first." she said. Ayn scowled.
   
    "That water looks far too deep, and I'll bet it's freezing cold!" he complained.
   
    "Just go, please." Still, Ayn refused.
   
    "Fine then, I'll make you go in." Isabella gently ushered Ayn to the edge. He heard the rushing of the water as it tumbled off the cliff edge and down into the inky depths below. His eyes opened wide with fear as he felt Isabella shove him over. He let out a loud scream as he fell. There was a big splash, then silence for a brief moment.
   
    "Isabella, what was that for?!" Lyle gasped. Isabella did not reply. She bombed into the water below and swam under the surface. She could barely see what was below her. She swam up to the surface and took a deep breath.
   
    "Lyle, jump! I need some light!" she called. Lyle sighed and hesitated for a moment, but he jumped down, pinching his nose as he went. Isabella took in a deep breath of air and disappeared under the surface of the water. She kicked her legs and swam further down. She saw someone lying motionless on the bottom. The light that came from above told her that it was Ayn. She grabbed his arm and swam up, but it was more difficult for she was burdened with the weight of the young prince. She broke the surface of the water and gasped for breath.
   
    "Is Ayn OK?" Lyle asked, slowly moving forwards and treading water. Isabella did not respond, for she was too busy swimming as fast as she could manage to a small ledge with Ayn in tow. Lyle picked up the pace and followed her.
   
    "He's unconscious. I didn't know he couldn't swim. He very nearly drowned." Isabella said as Lyle pulled himself out of the water. She looked at Ayn. His skin was cold and clammy to the touch, and his lips were blue. Isabella pushed down on his chest to revive his heartbeat. She listened to his chest. No sound. She pushed again, then gently breathed into him to try and revive his breathing. Again, she pushed down on his chest, but still nothing happened.
   
    "It's too late." Isabella said quietly, her voice showing no sign of emotion. She covered her eyes with her hands and began to sob, but her cries were interrupted by a spluttering sound. Ayn had woken up, and now he was coughing and spluttering, trying to get the water out of his lungs.
   
    "He's OK." Lyle breathed a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, Ayn was still coughing. He shivered and stood up, but his legs were too wobbly so he was forced to sit down again. He ran his hands up and down his arms to try and warm himself.
   
    "Wha-- what w-was going on..." the young prince mumbled through chattering teeth.
   
    "You couldn't swim, and you nearly drowned. Luckily I managed to save you." Isabella told him. She huddled close to the prince and tried to warm him up.
   
    "T-too c-cold..." Ayn whispered, resting his head on Isabella's shoulder.
   
    "We need to hurry, though. If we don't, then Siren will... oh I dread to think of what he'll do." Isabella motioned to Lyle. He walked over to the edge of the ledge and looked around. The passage where the river went was long and twisty.
   
    "I can't see anything." he said.
   
    "We're just gonna have to brave the river! Ayn, you hold onto me." Isabella jumped into the icy water. Ayn followed her and grabbed her before his head went under the surface. She held him so that he could still breathe. Lyle jumped in straight after and the threesome began to swim further downriver. As they rounded a bend, Lyle heard rushing water.
   
    "It sounds like a waterfall!" he cried.
   
    "Ayn, hold on!" Isabella called. Ayn held on tight to Isabella and all three of them closed their eyes, but they did not feel themselves falling. They felt like they were being swept furhter down the river faster than before.
   
    "What's going on?!" Lyle yelled over the din of the rushing water.
   
    "We're in the rapids! As long as we hold onto each other we should be OK!" Isabella called in reply. The threesome screamed as they rode the rapids, the white water sloshing at the sides and threatening to send them underwater. A large wave knocked Lyle underwater, and he struggled to break surface as the water crashed down on him.
   
    "Wait! Lyle's in trouble!" Ayn cried.
   
    "The water's too fast, I can't get back to him!" Isabella hollered over the noise.
   
    Meanwhile, Lyle was struggling. The water was pushing him down with so much force that he could not break surface. He was running out of air fast. But he could not send a message of help to Laya! He tried to speak the words, but they came out as glugging sounds. He felt the familiar stirring in his subconscious.
   
    Lyle, you are drowning! Get out of there! Laya cried. Lyle could not even speak to her out loud, let alone telepathically. He felt the water pressure easing off him, and he could finally break surface and take in a deep breath of air.
   
    I was able to use a technique to stop the water holding you down. You should be fine now. Laya's voice faded, and Lyle tried frantically to stay ahead of the crashing waves. He swam vigorously. He felt his staff slip out of his hand.
   
    "Oh no!" he cried. He tried to make a frenzied grab for it, but it was washed out of his reach by the pounding waves.
   
    Up ahead, Isabella and Ayn had managed to climb out of the water, due to a slower stretch of river. They shook the icy water out of their clothes and hair. Ayn saw the staff with the glowing emerald floating downriver, and he reached out for it and retrieved it from the water.
   
    "He didn't make it..." Ayn mumbled. He put the staff on the ground and dropped to his knees. He began to sob bitterly, and Isabella knelt down beside him and consoled him.
   
    "There's a chance he could still be alive." she said in a soothing voice, but Ayn began to sob harder.
   
    "There isn't... he's gone..." he wailed. Isabella gave him a small cuddle then she faced the river again. She saw someone swimming down.
   
    "Hey, over here!" she called. The person swimming down grabbed hold of the edge and climbed up. Isabella recognised him instantly.
   
    "Lyle, you're OK! When we saw the rapids had swept you underwater, we thought you were done for!" she said happily, embracing Lyle. Ayn looked up and turned around. He saw that Lyle was standing there, and he wiped away his tears and embraced him. Lyle returned the gesture and saw his staff lying on the ground. He picked it up and shook out the water from it and his clothes. When everyone was feeling a little less wet, Isabella led Ayn and Lyle down a narrow passage that spiralled downwards. There were torches lining it. She hurried down the passage and saw that it ended at a large wooden door.
   
    "OK, here are where my friends are." she said, and she opened the door. She told Ayn and Lyle to wait outside.



* * *


"Isabella Carlos. You have returned." said a slow, slightly regal voice as Isabella walked through the doorway and into a round room that was lit with torches.
   
    "I have, with two of my friends." she replied. She saw that someone was next to her. She looked to her right and saw that a tall man with long lime-green hair was stood next to her. His hairline was covered with a blue headband, and he was wearing a royal purple top and a pair of deep violet trousers. His arms were adorned with bracelets, and he had a very regal flair about him.
   
    "You should bring your friends in here." he said, gently running his hands over Isabella's shoulders. She gasped softly as he nuzzled her neck and whispered a few words in her ear.
   
    "I will." Isabella faced him and gave him a small smile, then she told Ayn and Lyle to step inside. Silence befell them as they looked around. The tall man with the lime-green hair strode over to them.
   
    "So you are the ones seeking Siren." he said in a low, but serious, tone.
   
    "We are. Who are you? I'm Ayn Nestetine, Prince of Cille." Ayn asked. He extended his hand towards the taller man.
   
    "I am Lune Arienne, Emperor of Dahlia." Lune said, giving Ayn a handshake.
   
    "Dahlia?" Lyle questioned.
   
    "Yes, Dahlia. It is one of the two moons of Samesina." Lune outstretched his hand towards Lyle. "And who might you be?"
   
    "Lyle Draconia, King of Shusoran." Lyle replied, shaking Lune's hand. The emperor faced Isabella and paced over to her. He gently stroked her cheek with the back of his hand.
   
    "Now, Isabella. Tell me, what do these two seek more than anything?" he asked in a quiet yet sensual voice.
   
    "They want to find and destroy Siren. Prince Ayn's sister was kidnapped by him." Isabella replied, gasping quietly at Lune's soft touch.
   
    "I want to confirm the details my spies have given me. Tell me, did you tell them of Siren's true intentions?" Lune pushed Isabella's hair away from her face and behind her ear.
   
    "No, I didn't."
   
    "You should tell them, my dear." Lune lifted Isabella's head up so she was looking him in the eye. She closed her eyes as Lune leaned forward and gently kissed her on the lips. She let out a small gasp and reached up to stroke Lune's cheek with one hand.
   
    "No, Lune. You tell them. I might miss out important details." she said softly. Lune took her hand and squeezed it gently, then he paced back over to Ayn and Lyle.
   
    "I am sure you know that Siren is truly evil. But you may never have fully grasped just how evil he is. Yes, it is true he has decimated towns. He is trying to remove all semblances of free will from the land, a gift which he does not possess. But as we speak, he is beginning to perform the Ritual of Shadows." Lune explained. Ayn gasped.
   
    "But what would Siren want with my sister?!"
   
    "Listen, young Prince Ayn. The ritual can only be performed when the four Circles are complete. They are the Circle of Death, the Circle of Destruction, the Circle of Sorrow and the Circle of Darkness. The last report I received told me that three of these Circles were complete. And, once the Circles are complete, a young virgin girl is placed in the centre of the Circles and the Ritual of Shadows is performed on her."
   
    "Why? Why do they do that?"
   
    "Young Prince Ayn, there is no time to go into intricate detail. Someday you will find out for yourself." Lune looked down at the young prince. "Something is on your mind. Tell me what it is."
   
    "Someone told me you were destroying towns too, Emperor..."
   
    "All the destruction of the towns was caused by Siren. He is a cunning one. He made the damage look like my style of attacking. It appears that you and I have a common enemy."
   
    "We have to stop him! Now!"
   
    "Do you have the Weapon?"
   
    "Yeah, I've got it, Emperor." Ayn took out the silvery dagger with the three gems set in the hilt. Lune took it out of the prince's hands and inspected it. He ran the edge along his finger and winced when the sharp blade cut his skin. He handed it back to Ayn and used a small strip of cloth to stem the bleeding from his finger.
   
    "The Weapon alone will not be enough to counter Siren. We must also discuss how we are to attack him. We cannot try to attack him head-on; we will surely be struck down where we stand."
   
    "But Emperor Lune! We need to go after Siren now! We can discuss our tactics on the way, because we don't have time to chinwag, not with him doing that Ritual of Shadows you mentioned. There's no way we can discuss our tactics." Ayn's eyes were wide with panic. Lune rested a hand on his shoulder and calmed him.
   
    "Then we shall head to where Siren is now. Time is of the essence. Come with me." Lune led Ayn to a small spacecraft, and Lyle and Isabella followed after them. Everyone looked at the craft in disbelief. How could all of them fit in it?
   
    "Don't you think a Ryuka Technique would be quicker?" Lyle suggested. Lune shook his head.
   
    "Siren has a companion who used a Restricta Technique on the entire area where he is hiding out. No techniques can be used to get in there, and no techniques can be used whilst inside the radius of it."
   
    "We're screwed. We are screwed. So that means that we only have the Weapon against Siren. It's not enough." Lyle said sadly. He looked at Ayn. The young prince's face fell.
   
    "Then that means... my sister is as good as dead." he said, beginning to sob.
   
    "Prince Ayn! Here is some good news for you. Siren's protection is only active whilst his companion is alive. His companion is a great deal weaker than Siren himself. If you destroy his companion, you destroy his shield." Lune explained. Ayn nodded and wiped the tears from his eyes. He walked over to the spacecraft and climbed into it.
   
    "This spacecraft is on autopilot, and it will take you to Azura, the other of Samesina's two moons. Now remember, you want to focus on removing Siren's companion before you go for Siren himself. That way, we can send you backup if you should need it." Lune closed the lid of the spacecraft down. The engines fired up and the craft began to hover above the ground. Lune subtly ordered Lyle and Isabella to step back, and they did. The spacecraft's thrusters fired and bright orange flames spurted out the back, and as they did so, the craft shot forward as if it had been fired from a slingshot. Lune, Lyle and Isabella watched as the spacecraft got further and further away from them. Now they realised that Prince Ayn was on his own against a powerful and formidable foe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART II: Chapter Four

 

 

 

 

The spacecraft touched down on the barren surface of Azura. Prince Ayn pushed open the lid of the craft and stepped out. There was nothing to see for miles. He looked to his right and his left as he stepped across the barren plain, trying to see if he could spot Siren's companion. He had to be careful. He could not turn back now, nor could anyone come to help him. He pulled his cloak tighter around him. It was cold here. He trudged onwards, always looking around him. Just ahead, he saw a hooded figure that was dressed completely in black. Ayn let out a gasp, but he pressed on, knowing that he had found Siren's companion. The hooded figure advanced towards him.
   
    "So it is true. You want to rescue your sister." the figure said in a sinister tone. Ayn instinctively reached for his sword.
   
    "How did you know?" the prince felt himself ask as he drew his sword and held it against his side. His left hand trembled nervously with the blade in his hand. The hooded figure let out a chilling laugh.
   
    "I saw it. My powers allow me to see into the minds of others, and her mind told me that you are indeed her brother... Prince Ayn Nestetine of Cille, is that correct?"
   
    "Y-yes it is!" Ayn was gobsmacked. He almost dropped his sword. The hooded figure laughed again.
   
    "I can read that you want to stop Siren, my master. I cannot allow that."
   
    "Get out of my face!" Ayn snapped. The hooded figure reached up and pulled the hood down. It revealed a middle-aged man with a lightly tanned face and tousled jet-black hair. The young prince recognised him instantly.
   
    "Ryan Quisto! But... why?!" Ayn was taken aback. Ryan laughed menacingly.
   
    "Look, did you notice that I was trying to get you and Lyle to go after Emperor Lune? This was all part of Siren's plan." he explained. Ayn pointed his sword at Ryan's throat.
   
    "You do realise that Siren wants all humans dead, don't you? Once you're no longer any use to him, he'll kill you." Ayn tried to be as firm as he could, but he was still shocked and fearful. Ryan stepped closer to Ayn, ignoring the fact that the prince's blade was bared near his throat.
   
    "That is not true. When Siren has finished the Ritual of Shadows, he will make me the prince of his new land, whilst he rules it as its king!" Ryan showed no signs of fear. Ayn swallowed.
   
    "Your plan's just a thorn in the side, and it's gonna be stopped right here, right now!"
   
    "Hah! You don't even understand the full scale of this plan, do you? You were always so naïve, Prince Ayn. I'd been misleading your friend since your father was but a prince. He did not fall for it last time, but he had this time!"
   
    "How?!"
   
    "I convinced him to go after Emperor Lune before I left to help Siren complete the preparations for the Ritual of Shadows."
   
    "I got him back on the right track, though." Ayn's voice was fierce.
   
    "Even a second can make the difference between victory and defeat, Prince Ayn." Ryan let out a spine-chilling wave of rancorous laughter, and Ayn felt knives of fear stabbing his heart. The arm he was using to hold his sword towards Ryan began to shake, and he had to lower the blade. He collapsed to his knees and shivered with horror.
   
    "Ryan, stop! Please!" the prince cried.
   
    "Shut up, Ayn. You're such a weak fool." Ryan advanced on Ayn and gave the prince a sharp kick in the side. He collapsed to the floor, sobbing.
   
    "Listen to me, Ryan... please... my friend trusted you..." Ayn begged. Ryan knelt down in front of him and slapped his cheek.
   
    "The fact that he was gullible will be his undoing, and will be the undoing of the entire world of Samesina. Once Siren performs the Ritual of Shadows, he can then begin the final awakening."
   
    "Final awakening?!" Ayn stemmed his fear and sat bolt upright. He looked at Ryan with anger burning in his gaze. "Tell me what the heck that means!"
   
    "Since you are too late, and you are so desperate to find out what fate awaits you and your pathetic world of Samesina, I'll tell you. The final awakening is the ritual that will awaken a 1000-year-old being that has long since been the fear, the pain and the sorrow of all Samesinian lores and folk tales."
   
    "I have to stop Siren!" Ayn stood up quickly and held his sword towards Ryan. He thrust the blade forward and impaled Ryan in the shoulder. He collapsed onto the floor. Wasting no time, the young prince pounced upon him and held the blade to his heart. Ryan smirked at him.
   
    "Like I said, you're too late anyway. Time is up for you and your world!" he snarled.
   
    "But once your life's over, Siren doesn't have anything protecting him. I know you used a Restricta Technique."
   
    "It doesn't matter. The plan's advanced too much to be stopped!"
   
    "We'll see about that... well, at least I will. You won't be around to see it." Ayn drove the blade deep into Ryan's chest, and he screamed as the cold steel cut through his flesh. The young prince withdrew the blade and looked at the blood that was dripping from it. He wiped it on a fold of his cloak and replaced it in the scabbard attached to his belt. He wiped a few beads of perspiration from his forehead and pressed on. He picked up the pace and made his way over a large hill. Over the other side, he saw the familiar bright red hair of Siren. He was working quickly, placing small shiny stones in a circle around a young girl. Ayn recognised her immediately.
   
    "Mercedes!" he said to himself. He drew the Weapon from his belt and edged forward. Siren was too occupied to notice the young prince. Ayn hurried towards a large wooden crate and hid behind it. Siren approached that crate and retrieved something out of it. The prince heard him mutter something.
   
    "She was nearly dead when I brought her here, but she has recovered nicely. She will be a fine vessel."
   
    "Vessel?!" Ayn gasped, a bit too loudly. Siren dropped what he was carrying and darted behind the crate that he had just got it from. He saw Ayn and made a quick grab for the young prince.
   
    "So you are the one whom Ryan told me of. You are brave to come and rescue your sister by yourself." Siren's voice grated against Ayn's soul. The young prince tried to free himself, but Siren was much too strong. The cyborg caught sight of the Weapon in the prince's hand. He snatched it and threw it to one side.
   
    "Let her go!" Ayn cried. He made a frantic kick at Siren, but he laughed maliciously and stamped on his foot. The young prince yelped in pain.
   
    "Never. She is to become the vessel for the most evil ancient being to ever walk this world."
   
    "Please don't do this... just let her go... take me instead..." Ayn began to sob, and Siren laughed.
   
    "The Ritual of Shadows calls for a young virgin girl. That is why it is your sister who shall be the vessel! And you, imbecile, can have the mercy of a quick death before the master of darkness awakens!" Siren grabbed Ayn around the neck and hurled the young prince towards a large cliff. Ayn impacted the ground hard, his head lolling due to the sheer force, and he blacked out.



* * *


Prince Ayn, please... wake up. The voice was female, a comforting thread of sound in the young prince's mind. He began to come around, but his eyes would not open. He was still winded, and in a great deal of pain.
   
    Come now, Prince Ayn, you must wake up. Ayn heard the note of concern in the female voice, but he could not figure out who was speaking or where they were. His mind was swimming. He opened his eyes slightly and tried to focus on a rock just in front of him. He blinked, but his vision was still bleary.
   
    You must get up. Siren has almost completed his preparations. You cannot lie there and let him do this! There was panic in the female voice now. Ayn pushed himself slowly to his hands and knees, but he fell back down again as a sharp pain tore through his left leg. He looked at it with blurry eyes, and he saw a piece of bone protruding from his flesh. The force of the impact had broken his leg completely.
   
    "I can't... my leg..." the young prince mumbled, rubbing his head with a semi-limp hand.
   
    You have no choice. You will have to manage. If there was another way I would tell you, but there is not. Your friends cannot reach you. Although you did destroy Siren's companion, the Restricta Technique has not dispelled. This means that you cannot even use a Resta Technique to heal yourself! Ayn heard the firmness in the female voice in his mind, but he still had no idea who it was.
   
    "Who are you?" he asked quietly.
   
    I am Laya. Your friend Lyle told me to assist you however I could. Laya's voice was soothing, but Ayn was confused. She was communicating to him via telepathy, a method that required the Telepatha Technique, but she was not being blocked out by the Restricta Technique.
   
    "How can you talk to me? There's a Restricta Technique..." Ayn felt himself ask. He heard Laya's replying laugh in his subconscious.
   
    The Telepatha Technique is the only technique that can be used through a Restricta Technique. Its magical wavelength is smaller than that of the Restricta Technique, thereby allowing it to bypass the Restricta Technique. Anyway, you should at least try to head towards Siren. I will give you signals to help you. Laya was calm, yet Ayn could feel her unease. He focussed his own Telepatha Technique so he could speak to her subconsciously.
   
    But the Weapon... I need the Weapon... without it, I can't defeat Siren. The young prince was panicked, but Laya told him not to worry. Ayn gritted his teeth against the pain that ripped through him and began to crawl along the floor. Since he could not stand, this was his only means of movement. It was a slow process, and it was fatiguing on his arms as he had to lean most of his weight on them. He stopped for a moment to regain his breath, then he pressed on. The pain was becoming unbearable, and Ayn felt tears welling in his eyes. He knew he could not stop. If he did, then his sister Mercedes would be manipulated by evil and the entire world of Samesina would fall victim to the armies of darkness. Up ahead, he saw a glint of metal. He crawled up to it and saw that it was the Weapon. He stuck it into his belt and breathed a sigh of relief.
   
    Do not celebrate yet, Prince Ayn. Siren is still alive. Laya said sternly in the young prince's mind.
   
    Laya, I can't go on! The pain... it's too much! I know my sister's still in danger, but I can't go on... Ayn's telepathic voice was riddled with melancholy tones, and he felt tears running down his cheeks as the pain ate at him.
   
    Keep going, Prince Ayn. You are almost there. I can feel Siren's presence nearby. The young prince smiled to himself as Laya's voice brushed his mind, easing his agony. He crawled a little bit further, and saw that Siren was sat down on the ground, with a thick book opened before him. He was reading from it, and one of the stone circles that surrounded Mercedes was glowing pure black.
   
    Easy does it, Prince Ayn. Stay behind him, then pierce the Weapon through his neck. That will end him completely. Laya told the prince. Ayn nodded and crawled closer to Siren, taking the Weapon out of his belt as he did so. When he was just a few inches behind Siren, Ayn pushed himself up to his knees and levelled the blade with Siren's neck. He leaned forward, but as he did so, he put too much weight on his damaged leg. He cried in pain and fell forward, the blade of the Weapon missing Siren's neck, but scratching his metal plated back. The young prince hit his head on Siren's back, and he was dazed. Siren stopped chanting and the black glow around one of the stone circles died down. The cyborg whirled round and saw Ayn lying on the ground. He fastened a metallic hand around the young prince's neck and hoisted him into the air.
   
    "I see you would rather try to stop me than die quietly! You are such a fool." Siren let out one of his soul-grating metallic laughs, and Ayn felt as if someone was running a freezing cold feather against his spine. He tightened his grip on the Weapon and tried to not choke too much, despite the fact he felt like his neck was being crushed. The young prince held the Weapon forward, but he saw Siren's free hand transform into a wickedly sharp blade. Meanwhile, Princess Mercedes was beginning to surface. She opened her eyes and held a hand to her forehead. She groaned as she tried to sit up, her entire body feeling limp. Her slate-grey eyes focussed on Siren and the struggling form of Ayn, and she gasped. She tried to stand up, but her legs were so weak, she collapsed onto the floor and watched in horror as Siren threatened to kill her brother right before her eyes.
   
    "Please, don't do it!" Ayn cried, but the last word came out as a scream of pain as he felt the long blade rip through him. Siren pulled him forward and opened the wound further, but Ayn ignored the pain as best as he could, feeling tears welling in his eyes, and swiped the Weapon at Siren's neck. The blade cut some of the metal tendrils, and sparks began to fizzle out of the metallic wound. Ayn swiped at Siren's neck again, cutting it further. He felt the cyborg's grip on his neck loosen and Siren fell forward, taking Ayn with him. The young prince let out a howling cry of agony as he pushed the inert cyborg's body off him, feeling the blade pulling and tearing at his flesh. He quickly clapped his hands over the wound and dared not move for fear that he would bleed to death. The blood pumped out of the wound, staining his hands and his clothes. He felt a stir in his mind.
   
    Prince Ayn, you must call to your sister. You are bleeding to death! Laya's voice was in a state of consternation.
   
    "Mercedes... please... help me..." Ayn croaked in a barely audible voice. There was a shriek and a frantic pattering of feet as Mercedes rushed over to him.
   
    "Oh, no! Ayn, please! Don't die on me!" she cried, ripping a piece of material from the hem of her skirt and wrapping it around the grotesque wound. She unpinned Ayn's cloak from around him, took it, folded it in two and wrapped that around the wound. She found a large hairpin in her pocket and used it to secure the makeshift bandage.
   
    "Can you... can you use... a Telepatha Technique?" the young prince asked softly.
   
    "Yes, what do you need?" Mercedes stroked his cheek.
   
    "Tell Lyle... tell him to come here..." Ayn moaned. Mercedes nodded, tears welling in her eyes, and she focussed a Telepatha Technique and told Lyle that it was urgent and she needed help. She cradled her brother's head in her arms as a streak of violet light hit the ground near to her. Lyle strode over to her from out of the light and looked at her.
   
    "This doesn't look good..." he said slowly.
   
    "It isn't! Lyle, do something! My brother is dying!" Mercedes panicked. Lyle knelt beside her and whispered a few words in her ear. He stood up and traced a large circle around them using the end of his staff. He stepped into the circle and took hold of Mercedes' hand, then he chanted the words for the Ryuka Technique. The circle glowed a shade of mauve, and when the glow disappeared, the threesome had gone with it.



* * *


Prince Ayn awoke and found himself in very strange surroundings. He was in a room with clean, wood-panelled walls and a whitewashed ceiling. He felt that he was lying on a bed. He pushed the bedcovers away and saw that the wound he had received during his struggle with Siren had been cleaned and properly bandaged. He moved the bedcovers to one side and he saw that his broken leg had been set in a splint and had also been cleaned and bandaged neatly. He sat up a little on the bed and gritted his teeth against a wave of pain that washed over him. The small door to the room opened, and Isabella walked in carrying a tray of food.
   
    "I thought you'd be hungry." she said quietly, placing the tray down on the small table beside the bed and stroking Ayn's cheek.
   
    "What happened to me?" he asked.
   
    "When Lyle and Mercedes brought you back to Samesina, you'd blacked out. We were all worried about you, because you didn't wake up for five days. But now at least you're awake." Isabella explained, pushing the young prince's fringe out of his face.
   
    "Thank you, Isabella." Ayn replied. "Thank you for everything you've done to help me."
   
    "I realised that I had been too harsh with you earlier, Ayn. I'm sorry if I hurt you. I want to make it up to you somehow."
   
    "But you are. You're looking after me."
   
    "I want to make sure you get better." Isabella picked up the tray of food and rested it on the young prince's lap. "Your breakfast. I cooked it myself."
   
    "Thanks." Ayn picked up the knife and fork off the tray and began to eat with relish.
   
    "Maybe I should have just found you before any of this started." Isabella mumbled. Ayn finished a mouthful of food and looked at her with his blue eyes.
   
    "It's not your fault. You shouldn't blame yourself for what happened, or for what Siren did to me. It was just an unfortunate coincidence that this happened to me."
   
    "Look, Ayn... I have wanted to say this to you for a while, but I didn't have the courage to say it." There was silence for a few brief moments.
   
    "Tell me." Ayn wheedled. Isabella hesitated.
   
    "I... I... I love you. I've never known someone as brave, or someone with so much courage as you."
   
    "And here's the funny thing! Despite the fact that I first thought you were really unpredictable and a bit sinister, I love you too. You've meant a lot to me, Isabella."
   
    "And you've meant a lot to me, Ayn. Maybe... when you're feeling a bit better, we should show the rest of the world we love each other."
   
    "I could manage now. I'm not going to let a few scratches stop me telling the world I love you."
   
    "But Ayn...! Those wounds... you really should let yourself recover beforehand. It won't do you any good, trust me."
   
    "I'd rather do it now." Ayn reached out a hand towards Isabella, who took it in one of her own. She leaned towards him and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. Ayn wrapped his arm around her neck, not wanting her to break the kiss. They parted, and when they did, Isabella's cheeks were flushed.
   
    "OK, Ayn. We'll do it now." Isabella smiled at the young prince, then she crossed over to the other side of the room and got a pair of crutches. She leaned them against the bed whilst she helped Ayn to his feet. He held tightly onto her so he did not fall. She handed him the crutches and he used them to support himself.
   
    "Let's go." Isabella led the way out of the door, with Ayn following behind her. He gritted his teeth against a few stabs of pain as he made his way after Isabella. They went to a large hall that was decorated with opulent marble statues and intricately carved wooden beams. On one of the several long plush couches, Lyle, Mercedes and Lune were seated, talking about the recent events. Prince Ayn's parents, King Rhys and Queen Maia, were sat on another of the couches. And on a third couch, Queen Meera and Princess Thea were sat.
   
    "Everyone came along..." Ayn said softly to Isabella.
   
    "Of course they did, why, everybody was worried about you!" she replied. Lyle was the first to stand up from the couches. He paced over to Ayn and smiled at the young prince. He returned the gesture.
   
    "Thank Laya you're OK! When you hadn't woken up for so long, I thought that Siren had... done you in..." he said, giving Ayn a hug, but being careful not to knock the crutches that were supporting the prince.
   
    "When that blade cut me, even I thought I was a goner." Ayn mumbled. Lyle gave him a big smile.
   
    "Well, you're alive to tell the tale, that's all that matters." Lyle then sat back down, and Mercedes stood up, along with King Rhys and Queen Maia. The three of them paced over to Ayn.
   
    "Ayn, you survived... I thought..." Mercedes began, but Ayn hushed her.
   
    "I know, even Lyle thought so. But hey, I'm here." the prince said reassuringly.
   
    "Thank Orakio that you came back to us all. I was deeply troubled when Mercedes came to me, bearing the news that you were in such a terrible condition." Rhys said to Ayn. The young prince smiled.
   
    "I'm alive! No need to worry, Dad!" he said loudly, so that everyone could hear.
   
    "Of course you are, my dear. It was all thanks to you that we're safe from whatever Siren was planning to summon." Queen Maia whispered to Ayn. She gently kissed him on the cheek.
   
    "Yeah, but Mum... I probably couldn't have done it without the help of Lyle and Isabella... and Emperor Lune." the prince said timidly. Isabella let out a slight laugh.
   
    "Maybe so, but it was you who finished it." she said. Ayn smiled at her, and as the two faced each other, Rhys, Maia and Mercedes returned to their places. Isabella took a few steps towards Ayn and gently laced her arm around his waist. He leaned towards her, she leaned towards him. The two kissed fiercely. Everyone else in the room applauded.
   
    "It would appear that the two wish to marry." Lune said to the others.
   
    "Then we should begin to prepare." Rhys added. He stood up and strode over to Lune. Together the two of them discussed about the preparations for a wonderful, unforgettable marriage ceremony. When Ayn and Isabella parted from their kiss, they looked at the others in the room. Rhys waved to them and paced towards them.
   
    "It appears that you two wish to be wed to one another, am I correct? In that case, we should begin the preparations immediately, and we should revel in happiness since we have banished the foul scourge Siren to the netherworld." he said. Ayn and Isabella smiled and acknowledged this, then everyone stood up and cleared the hall, ready to prepare for the wedding.



* * *


At long last, with a steel nerve and the heart of a lion, Prince Ayn succeeded in overthrowing the evil Siren and in uncovering Ryan Quisto's sinister involvement in Siren's plan. In doing so, he saved his sister, Princess Mercedes, from becoming a slave to the forces of darkness. An unlikely affection sprang up between the prince and the rough-edged bounty hunter Isabella Carlos, and they married once Siren's influence had vanished from the world of Samesina. The two of them became the King and Queen of Cille, and they worked together to rebuild the ruined kingdom.
   
    Princess Thea, the daughter of King Lyle and Queen Meera, had found love in Emperor Lune, and so they married. She became the Empress of Dahlia, and together she and Emperor Lune kept a watchful eye on Samesina from one of its moons. Soon, Empress Thea gave birth to a daughter, and she and Emperor Lune named her Kara.
   
    In Cille, Queen Isabella gave birth to a son, whom she and King Ayn named Crys. For now, Samesina and its moons were in a state of peace, but no-one can ever predict how long a period of world peace will last... for the future has not yet been paved...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART III: Chapter One

 

 

 

 

Peace had reigned over the world of Samesina for seventeen years, and Prince Crys grew up in the town of Cille through this time of peace. However, reports soon came to the town that suggested of finishing what someone else had started...
   
    Who knew what this meant, or what was to come, but one thing was certain. It was up to Prince Crys to find out what was going on...



* * *


The main hall of the castle of Cille was unusually quiet. Not a speck of dust stirred, and sunlight poured through the large windows. For a month, reports had been coming in from all over Samesina, telling of someone trying to finish what another had started. The Royal Family of Cille had dismissed these reports as 'scare stories' (or so Queen Isabella put it).
   
    A door in the westmost area of the hall opened, and a young man with dark blonde hair stepped through the threshold. He was dressed in a scarlet shirt and burgundy trousers, a pair of brown boots and a pair of black fingerless gloves on his hands. A silver-trimmed black cape was pinned around his shoulders. He had pale skin and dark brown eyes.
   
    "Hello? Mum? Dad?" he called. He instinctively reached for the broadsword that was in a brown leather scabbard attached to his belt. He rested his hand on the hilt and tiptoed into the hall. Nothing stirred. The silence made the young man uneasy. His eyes flickered to the right, then to the left.
   
    "Look, if you're not here, you could've at least..." but he was cut off midsentence. The large double doors at the southern end of the hall were flung open by a huge gust of wind. He faced the now-open door. No-one was there. He shivered as a chilly wind blew in and ruffled his short hair.
   
    "You are wasting your time, young one. They are not here." a new voice said. The young man drew his sword and held it defensively. His protective streak began to emerge. He whirled round and stepped backwards.
   
    "Show your face!" he snapped. He took several more steps gingerly backwards, and he bumped into somebody. He faced the person he had bumped into, and saw that this person was male. He had long lime-green hair and he was dressed in a royal purple top and deep violet trousers. His arms were adorned with bracelets, and his hairline was covered by a jewelled headband.
   
    "What did you do with them?!" the young man felt himself ask.
   
    "I did nothing, Prince Crys. They set off by themselves." the new arrival replied.
   
    "How do you know my name?!" Crys stepped back.
   
    "Ah! Well, your father has told me much about you. By the way, my name is Lune Arienne, Emperor of Dahlia." Lune extended his hand towards Crys.
   
    "Then I guess I don't have to remind you that I'm Crys Nestetine, Prince of Cille, do I?" Crys took Lune's hand and the twosome exchanged a handshake.
   
    "Well, it does not matter now. What matters is that your family has gone without you, and they did not tell you about this, did they?"
   
    "No, they didn't. I guess they told you, though."
   
    "They did. They said they would be gone a week, but they have been gone for a month."
   
    "Wait!" Crys gasped and thought for a moment. "That's when the first scare stories came in! Mum didn't seem bothered, but Dad... he got her to go with him, and Aunt Mercedes went with them." Lune raised an eyebrow.
   
    "Scare stories, did you say?"
   
    "Yeah, yeah, I did. That's what my mum called them." Lune folded his arms and regarded Crys with a slightly cold stare.
   
    "These are not scare stories, Prince Crys. They are the truth."
   
    "Truth?! But..." Crys felt a dart of fear shoot down his spine. He looked up at Lune, who seemed cool and composed in comparison.
   
    "I see that this is not making sense to you, is it? Well, I shall help you make sense of it. You must know the full truth." Lune took hold of Crys's wrist and led him out of the empty castle. Even the courtyard was empty. There were not even any patrolling guards. The prince looked around with a slight fear in his eye. He was not used to seeing such deathly emptiness in Cille.
   
    "Here we are. We shall go to Dahlia, where I shall explain everything." Lune gestured towards a compact spacecraft that looked like a huge dart. Crys stared at the craft in bewilderment. How could he possibly fit into that thing with Emperor Lune?
   
    "It's a bit on the small side, isn't it?" the prince felt himself ask.
   
    "It will fit us both in it." Lune strode over to the craft and opened the main hatch. He beckoned Crys to come over, then he helped the prince climb into the craft. He then climbed in himself and helped Crys to attach the seat belt.
   
    "It's bigger than I thought." Crys said quietly.
   
    "You see, its small looks deceive." Lune replied with a lopsided smile. He sat into the control seat and closed the main hatch. He slid a bolt across that locked into place (this stopped someone unintentionally opening the hatch and therefore prevented the risk of being exposed to the vacuum of space). He flicked a switch on the control panel, and a symphony of different coloured lights flickered all throughout the spacecraft.
   
    "Vacuum lock initialised, life support system at 100% capacity, engine power core 100% charged. Starter thrusters firing." said a computerised female voice from a speaker near the front of the craft.
   
    "We are about to take off. Grab hold of the arms of the seat. It helps stop you feeling sick after the ride." Lune said. Crys acknowledged this and grasped the two arms of the seat tightly. He felt as though he was being lifted from his seat for a moment.
   
    "The starter thrusters have got us off the ground, and now for the main ones..." Lune muttered to himself, flicking a large red switch on the control panel. The spacecraft began to rumble violently as the main thrusters fired up. The heat generated was so intense that the view through the craft's windows was shimmering. Crys held on tighter to the arms of the seat he was strapped into as the craft rumbled more and more. He suddenly felt he was being slammed back into his seat as the craft shot forward like a bullet fired from a gun. He shut his eyes and kept them shut whilst Lune piloted the spacecraft.



* * *


Prince Crys felt a dull thud underneath him as the spacecraft touched down. He opened his eyes and blinked rapidly. He saw the main hatch open, and saw Lune climbing out. He reached for the buckle and tried to undo it, but he merely fumbled with it and could not undo it. Lune leaned in and gave him some assistance. Crys then removed the straps and climbed out of the craft. His legs felt like jelly and he was very disorientated. Lune let out a small laugh.
   
    "Was that your first time in a spacecraft?" he asked.
   
    "Yeah, it was." Crys replied, staggering forward. Lune told him not to worry. He put an arm around the prince and helped him walk whilst he pulled himself together. They were walking towards what looked like a palace in the middle of nowhere.
   
    "I am sure you have no idea where we are, do you?" Lune asked, breaking the silence.
   
    "Uh, no..." Crys looked across at Lune as he spoke.
   
    "This is Dahlia, one of the two moons of Samesina."
   
    "But why would you be Emperor of a moon that has hardly anyone living here?"
   
    "I was charged with it by the great sorceress Laya. I was her general during her battles with the swordsman Orakio."
   
    "But that was like over 1000 years ago. How can you...?!"
   
    "While at first glance we may not appear to be technologically superior, we had developed the technology of cryogenic sleep, which preserved me over that millenium. I was awoken forty years ago for reasons which you may not understand yet. This knowledge will come in due time." Before Crys could question Lune further, the emperor had gone up to the front door of the palace and opened it. He felt less disorientated now, so he stepped towards the palace and crossed over the threshold. He looked around in awe as he saw the beautiful varnished wood panelling that reflected the torchlight that flickered throughout the room. The walls had ornate tapestries hanging from them, and Crys wondered what they were showing. There were four in total - one depicting a swordsman fighting a sorceress, one showing a silhouette of a person standing in light that appeared to be dispelling darkness and one depicting a town that was surrounded by a thick fog. Crys noticed that this particular one was devoid of colour, and this made it seem chilling. The fourth tapestry was showing a person with dark blonde hair wielding a shining blade, and this person appeared to be swinging the sword at the hideous form of a grotesque beast. Crys noticed that the needlework on this particular tapestry was much more intricate than the other three, almost as if the person who had done this was creating a realistic piece. He also noticed that the hairstyle of the person in the tapestry was very similar to his own hairstyle, and the clothes the person in the tapestry was wearing were also similar. Was this a prophetic tapestry that only a mystic could have sewn? Crys pondered this for a few moments, but his pondering was interrupted as Lune ushered him into a small round room that was also wood-panelled and lit with torches. The prince noticed that a large solitary painting hung at one end of the room.
   
    "Now, Prince Crys, you must know the truth of what has happened." Lune said as he sat down in a carved wooden throne. He invited Crys to sit down in a plush ornate chair that was next to the throne. The prince sat down and glanced at the painting for a moment, then his attention turned to Lune.
   
    "Something isn't right, I know that." Crys's voice had a slight quaver of fear.
   
    "It is more than a minor thing. Seventeen years ago, your father, King Ayn, defeated the cyborg Siren using the sacred Cyborg Buster blade. He merely referred to it as the Weapon, but that is its true name."
   
    "I don't get it. This is crazy talk."
   
    "Patience, Crys. Patience."
   
    "Hey, wait! You forgot... oh, never mind... you can call me by name."
   
    "Thank you. Now, as I was saying, your father destroyed Siren with the Cyborg Buster blade. But, Siren had begun the Ritual of Shadows, which is a ritual composed of the darkest of the dark magical arts. This requires the four Circles of Sorrow, Death, Destruction and Darkness. It also requires a young virgin girl and the Box of Malady."
   
    "But what does all this mean? I mean, my dad stopped Siren, so what's the worry?"
   
    "Ah, but Siren was already so far into the ritual. The Circles were left intact, and the Box of Malady was ready to be opened. The only component missing was the young virgin girl. Siren had that girl, but your father rescued her."
   
    "Who was that girl?"
   
    "You know her, Crys. She is your father's sister."
   
    "So Siren nearly performed that bad ritual on my Aunt Mercedes? Wait, she told me that she knew about the Circles, and that she was some kind of vessel. Nothing about the Box of Malady though."
   
    "Ah, the Box of Malady is only introduced once the four Circles are complete and the virgin girl is lying in the centre of the Circles. This box contains the ultimate in evil power. Any human consumed by it will be instantly possessed by evil desires and goals. The contents of that box..." Lune stopped midsentence. Crys noticed that his eyes were wider.
   
    "Emperor Lune! Are you OK?"
   
    "Crys... that box, its contents are of the utmost evil. Many Samesinian folklores and legends tell of this evil as a destroyer of communities, a murderer of innocents, a tainting of purity, a poison in our air, a cloud of death. Most artists portray this evil as wisps of dark fog, but some have made it to be a black serpent. Yet others depict it as a hideous beast like no other."
   
    "One of the tapestries in the room outside... it showed a dark beast with some guy holding a sword and was trying to beat it. The weird thing is, that guy looks almost exactly like me."
   
    "So you noticed the prophecy in needlework. Such an observant one you are, Crys. Indeed, that tapestry was sewn by a Samesinian fortune teller thirty-five years ago. She was an old woman who entrusted it to me as I made my way back to Dahlia. You have made me realise just how important that tapestry is. Because, you have been chosen as a liberator of evil."
   
    "But, Emperor Lune! I'm not exactly hero material. I mean, I don't even like fighting."
   
    "Whether you like to fight or not, you have no choice. Your destiny was written before you were born, and since evil is gathering strength, you must follow it. I will guide you to the best of my ability, but when it comes to the final showdown, you will be on your own."
   
    "I really can't do it. I'm scared, Emperor Lune." Crys clutched his hands to his chest nervously.
   
    "Steel yourself, Crys. As I have said, you have no choice in the matter. But do not fear, for when you have done all the tasks to prepare for the final showdown, you will be more than a match for the armies of darkness." Lune stood up and strode over to Crys. He rested a hand on the prince's shoulder and whispered some words of encouragement to him. Crys thanked him, then Lune strode back to his seat and sat back down. Crys looked again at the painting hanging up. It depicted a man holding a emerald-topped staff standing in bright light. The prince noticed that the hair of the man in the painting was a bright green colour, and that he was wearing royal red robes and had a white cape with red trim pinned around his shoulders. He also noticed that the man's left eye was covered with a black eye patch. Crys stood up and paced over to the painting, taking a closer look, noticing the delicacy of the brush strokes that conveyed the man and his surroundings. Each stroke was perfect, and suggested that the man in the portrait was young-looking, but he had the knowledge of many years. The light that surrounded him was painted with soft, flowing, lively brush strokes. Crys saw that there was also dark edges to the painting, depicting an evil presence nearby. The brush strokes making these up, Crys noticed, were hard and jagged, and conveyed a chilling feeling. He looked across at Lune.
   
    "This painting here... what does it mean?" the prince asked himself.
   
    "Ah, so you found the portrait of the Wielder of Light." said a voice nearby that made Crys jump. It was Emperor Lune.
   
    "Wielder of Light?"
   
    "You will not be completely alone during your battle against the armies of darkness. That will only come during your final showdown. The Wielder of Light, along with the Liberator of Evil, will battle a cloud of darkness that threatens to haunt this land. as the fortune tellers have foretold, this is but a mere prelude for what is to come."
   
    "I can't do it, Emperor. I'm sorry, but I think your fortune tellers picked the wrong guy to be this Liberator of Evil you're blabbing on about."
   
    "Blabbing on?! Do you have any idea of the magnitude of the situation?!" Lune was clearly offended.
   
    "You're saying that I have to fight this evil thing, but I have no idea where to start. And, besides which, you're just going on without allowing me to understand it." Crys phrased his reply carefully.
   
    "There is little time to waste, Crys. You will have to try to understand this whilst you undertake the tasks I am about to set you."
   
    "You're assuming I'm gonna do this? Wait! You're forcing me to do this. You just want to believe your fairy stories that the fortune tellers gave you, right?"
   
    Lune rounded on Crys with a chilling speed. "Fairy stories! You really do not have any idea what is happening, do you? The simple fact of the matter is, I did not force you into this. Fate herself has forced you into this!"
   
    "Emperor Lune, I'm not some errand boy or your personal slave. I only wanted to find my parents and my Aunt Mercedes. That's all I wanted!"
   
    "And it is a rather unfortunate coincidence that this is happening, is it not? Your family has gone missing and I cannot find them. If you want to see them again, I recommend that you liberate this evil from the land of Samesina and you may just see them again. They are most likely hiding from the darkness that pervades the land." Lune's tone was crafty.
   
    "Alright, if it'll let me see my family again, I'll do it."
   
    "A wise choice, Crys. Now, if you come with me, I will tell you about the tasks that are to be completed in order to prepare for your battles with the armies of darkness." Lune began to stride out of the room. Crys hurried out after him.



* * *


Emperor Lune led Prince Crys down a long straight corridor lined with flickering torches. The two walked in silence as they made their way down the fairly wide corridor. Eventually Lune stopped outside a large varnished wooden door. He took out a large chunky key from his pocket and pushed it into the lock. He turned it clockwise three times. There was a loud click as the lock released, then a series of quieter clicks as several more locks released. The door receded back and slid upwards. Crys stepped into the room that the doorway had revealed, closely followed by Lune. The door slid back down into position and several clicks followed as the small locks engaged.
   
    "That door is the most secure door in my entire palace. A primary lock and seventy secondary locks keep it secure. It is key operated on the other side, but on this side, it can only be opened by my touch, or the touch of one of my descendants. If you were to touch that door, an arc of lightning would strike you with a deadly jolt. Do not touch the door." Lune's voice was sharply serious.
   
    "So what you're saying is, that if a thief found the key and got in here, there's no way they could get out without being turned into a crispy critter, right?" Crys asked.
   
    "Indeed that is correct. Now, as for why I have brought you in here, this is where you will learn of the tasks you must perform in order to fully prepare yourself for the final showdown against evil. There are five of these tasks, and they must be performed in the order that they are given to you. Do you fully understand this?"
   
    "Why in a certain order, though?"
   
    "They will be much easier to comprehend that way."
   
    "Uh, OK. So I do five tasks, then battle an ancient evil so I can see my family again. Sounds like child's play."
   
    "Do not be fooled, Crys. This adventure you are about to embark on is far from simple. The five tasks may sound easy, but they are deceptively difficult."
   
    "That's comforting." There were hints of sarcasm in Crys's voice. Lune chuckled to himself and led Crys to a large round table with ten chairs arranged round it. There were papers spread all over the table, and a young woman was seated in one of the chairs, studying the papers. Crys noticed that like Lune, she had long lime-green hair. He saw that she was wearing a purple top that was slightly ripped in places. She stood up and walked over to Lune, and Crys saw that she was wearing black flared trousers and a pair of brown boots.
   
    "Well, I will leave you now. I am sure that my daughter can explain everything to you." Lune said to Crys. He patted the prince on the back and strode away from him.
   
    "Hmm. So you're Prince Crys Nestetine of Cille. I was expecting you to be... bigger than that." the young lime-green haired woman said to Crys. She stepped in front of him, and he noticed that she was wearing red lipstick and her eyes were heavily made up with black kohl.
   
    "OK, so who are you?" Crys asked, holding his hand towards her. She pushed it away from her.
   
    "I'm Kara, Emperor Lune's daughter. I don't do handshakes, sorry." She strode back to the table and sat back down. She invited Crys to sit next to her.
   
    "Emperor Lune told me of five tasks that I've gotta do before I can take on this ancient evil. What are they?"
   
    "Did he tell you that you need to do them in order?"
   
    "Yes he did."
   
    "In that case, I'll tell you about the first one. You need to find a sword that's called the Sword of Eternal Justice. In the Samesinian Chronicle, it was said that the swordsman Orakio used this blade in order to battle the same ancient evil over 1000 years ago."
   
    "But why wasn't this evil gotten rid of there and then?"
   
    "Unfortunately Orakio and Laya couldn't destroy it completely, so they had to seal it away in the Box of Malady, which they then locked up in a massive maze of rocky tunnels underneath the town of Hazatak in the Bernink Province. Even so, that didn't stop anyone trying to get it. Siren got hold of it seventeen years ago, and he nearly..." but Crys cut Kara short.
   
    "Yeah, I know, I know, he nearly made that thing take over my Aunt Mercedes."
   
    "You're an impatient one, Prince. Anyway, that's the first task, to find the Sword of Eternal Justice."
   
    "But where is it?"
   
    "It's in the furthest reach of Samesina, in the Terminus Province. There's an old castle there, the last remaining stronghold of the elite warriors that fought in the Devastation War."
   
    "But, Kara! That was 1000 years ago!"
   
    "Oh, but Crys! You don't mind, do you...? Anyway, it's because they all went into cryogenic sleep, that's how they're here today. The one we're looking for is named Rulakir, and he's Orakio's twin brother. He was trusted with the Sword of Eternal Justice when Orakio was dying."
   
    "That's simple, isn't it?"
   
    "Not quite. There's only one way into the Terminus Province, and that's via the Frigidia Province. Hope you brought some warm clothes. But, we do have a shortcut to the Frigidia Province from this very room."
   
    "We're on Dahlia, so how can you---"
   
    "Stop being so skeptical. When my father built this palace, the sorceress Laya used some of her power to make a permanent portal to where she was most worshipped. The portal I'm talking about leads to Mystoke, known to most of us as the Castle of Silence."
   
    "This is impossible. I mean, Laya died long ago, didn't she?"
   
    "Do you ever listen?! Clean your ears, Crys!" Kara was sharp. She stood up and glared at Crys.
   
    "What do you mean?"
   
    "This palace has been here for 1000 years! And the sorceress Laya created the portal whilst my father was building the palace! Do you get it now, you dumb blonde?!" As she spoke these words, Kara slammed her fist on the table. The noise made Crys jump.
   
    "Alright, I got it!" Crys was offended by Kara's 'dumb blonde' comment, but he tried not to show it. Before he could say anything more on the matter, Kara had stood up and was pulling him out of his seat and towards a small alcove that was not lit at all.
   
    "It's here." Kara said, pushing at the wall with her hand. The wall slid back to reveal a mass of swirling blue light. Crys turned away from the light, but Kara forced him to turn back round.
   
    "You need to pull yourself together, Crys. You're the only one who can stop this ancient evil." Her voice was stark, with no emphasis. Crys looked her in the eye and nodded.
   
    "Let's go then." He hesitated for a moment before stepping through the light. Kara shook her head before she too stepped through the swirling light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART III: Chapter Two

 

 

 

 

Prince Crys looked around. He was no longer in the secret chamber in Emperor Lune's palace, but nearby a building that was on a street corner. It was bitterly cold outside, and he was shivering despite the fact that he was wearing fairly thick clothes.
   
    "I did warn you to bring something warm to wear." a voice behind him said. Crys jumped and whirled round, and Kara was stood there. She was wearing a thick hooded brown cloak over her clothes. She had hold of another brown cloak, and she handed it to Crys. He slipped it on and followed Kara, who had begun walking towards an elaborate wrought iron gate.
   
    "We don't need anything from Mystoke, so let's just head for the Terminus Province." she said as Crys caught up with her. She pushed open the heavy gate and trudged out.
   
    Once the twosome had exited the Castle of Silence, the iron gate slammed shut behind them with a loud reverberating clang. The noise made Crys look behind him and he saw that they could not re-enter. A blizzard had started up, with icy flakes of snow being thrown at Crys and Kara as they waded through the snow towards the Terminus Province. They could hardly see what was ahead of them as a thick shroud of fog hid the horizon from view.
   
    "Do you know where we're going, Kara?" Crys asked after half an hour of traversing the waist-deep expanse of snow.
   
    "I don't know exactly, but I know this is the right direction. We're supposed to head south after leaving the Castle of Silence, and keep going until we reach a cave mouth that looks like a triangle." she replied, a little sharply. The blizzard of snow had stopped, only to be followed by a torrent of hailstones that struck Crys and Kara like chilling bullets. The two of them began to trudge faster in the hopes that they would be coming up to the cave mouth soon.
   
    They had hoped wrong.
   
    They had been going at a faster pace for around several miles, and there had been no sign of the cave mouth. They had depleted extra energy to find the cave in vain. Crys was about to sit down on a nearby rock to get his breath back, but Kara forced him to stay standing up.
   
    "We'd better not stop, Crys! It's really cold and there's no-one who can help us. If we sit out here, we'll probably die out here in this frozen wilderness. Let's keep going, I've got a feeling we're nearly there anyway." she said sternly. Crys sighed and carried on wading through the snow with her. She had been right though. The cave mouth they had been looking for was just another quarter-mile from where Crys was about to stop and rest. It was twice as high as Crys was tall, and the rock was jagged and encrusted with ice crystals that sparkled like diamonds in the light.
   
    "We're here. Now let's get into the Terminus Province, and then we'll rest." Kara told Crys. He nodded his acknowledgement, but he asked her if the Terminus Province was as cold. She replied that the Terminus Province was much warmer than the Frigidia Province, so they could comfortably rest there before they embark on their quest to obtain the Sword of Eternal Justice. They began to head into the cave. It was pitch black inside, and it smelled musty and damp.
   
    "Have you got anything to make a light here?" Crys asked, after stumbling into Kara for the seventh time.
   
    "I've come across a long, dry piece of wood. I'll tie some rags to the top then light them to make a torch." Kara replied. She reached into the bag she was carrying on her shoulder and pulled out some old rags. It was difficult for her to see what she was doing, and since it was so dark, she and Crys could not even head back to the cave entrance to see what they were doing. Crys took hold of the wood whilst Kara fumbled with the rags in the dark. Eventually she had tied them all to the top of the wood, and with a swift hand movement, set them alight.
   
    "I would've set it alight with rubbing sticks together, but a Foi Technique works just as well." Kara explained, taking the torch from Crys. The yellow light illuminated the passageway and danced off the damp rocky walls.
   
    "At least we won't fall over each other any more." Crys stated truthfully. Kara nodded and began to make her way through the passage. She noticed it was getting narrower and more twisted as she advanced. Crys followed her, but as he was more heavily built than Kara, he found it more difficult to navigate the twisted passageway. At one point he got stuck and had to call to Kara for help. She helped him get past by telling him which limbs to move, but it was a slow and painful process.
   
    Finally, after ten minutes of stress and painful contortions, Crys was freed from the passage. He stood up and cluched the small of his back in pain and groaned.
   
    "I hope there's another way out of the Terminus Province..." he grunted, stretching the pain out of his neck as he spoke.
   
    "We'll find out soon enough. We're nearly there." Kara replied, pointing at the passage ahead of her, which was a lot more spacious. Some natural light was filtering in from nearby. She dropped the torch and took hold of Crys's hand, and together they headed towards the light.
   
    The passage opened up into a vast green field dotted with trees. A large grey object could be seen on the horizon. Kara began to lead Crys towards it, but he pulled her back, saying he needed to rest. She let him lead her to a large flat rock which they both sat down upon, breathing heavily.
   
    "I hadn't noticed how tired I was!" Kara exclaimed.
   
    "I'm still sore from that episode in the cave passage." Crys groaned, removing the thick brown cloak he had been wearing. He handed it to Kara. "This is too warm to wear here. I'd probably cook in that thing." Kara laughed a little and took it from him. She removed her own cloak and put them both down on the rock.
   
    "We won't be needing those any more. All the other tasks aren't based anywhere cold."
   
    "You're just gonna leave them here?"
   
    "Might as well. My dad didn't really want them anyway."
   
    "OK then. Let's go."
   
    "Better get it over with." Kara stood up and helped Crys to his feet, keeping hold of his arm as she briskly walked towards the grey object on the horizon. It revealed itself to be an old, ruined castle as they got closer to it. Even though it was falling apart, Kara and Crys could picture its grandeur when it was first built. They walked around one side of the castle, until they approached a broken wooden door. Kara slowed down to a near-halt, and she hissed to Crys to do the same. They tiptoed towards the door. Nothing stirred. Kara gingerly reached out towards the splintered wood and gently pushed the door open.
   
    "Hello?" she called softly, tiptoeing through the threshold.



* * *


Deathly silence. The castle ruins were abandoned. Gossamer cobwebs hung from rusted chandeliers, and thick layers of dust swathed the moth-eaten carpets. Broken planks of wood and chunks of rock littered the long room where Crys and Kara were stood in quiescence. A short sword, soiled by the ravages of time, lay by Kara's feet. She looked down, picked it up and inspected it. She brushed off the dirt and took a cautious step forward. She swung the sword to her left, then to her right, testing the weight of the blade. She was satisfied with it, so she held it in a defensive position and edged forward, looking to her left and her right as she slowly advanced. Crys followed gingerly after her, stepping over chunks of rock. His heart began to beat a symphony of frantic pounds. Something about the silence chilled him to the bone, he did not know what, but he knew that something was hidden here.
   
    A fast-paced crunching sound of feet on layers of dust and small stones sounded from the opposite end of the room. Crys jumped and drew his broadsword. Kara stopped where she was and held the short sword in front of her.
   
    "Be careful. They're armed." said an unknown voice. Crys whirled on his feet, but he did not see who spoke. Kara began to look more urgently around her. More voices followed the first one.
   
    "The one in front... look at her hair. It is... that distinct lime-green colour."
   
    "Silence. I am not blind. I see the colour of her hair. What are you suggesting?"
   
    "She could be related to... him. You know, Emperor Lune Arienne of Dahlia."
   
    "Do not speak his name to me!" Kara let out a soft gasp. These unknown people knew of her father! She stepped forward carefully, keeping her eyes trained ahead of her. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and its touch was cold. It sent a shiver down her spine, despite the fact she had been trained not to let fear get to her.
   
    "Who are you, and what are you doing here?" a voice behind her asked. Kara turned round slowly and swallowed.
   
    "My name is Kara Arienne, and me and my friend Prince Crys Nestetine of Cille have come in search of the Sword of Eternal Justice." Her reply sounded braver than she felt.
   
    "You are related to the dreaded Emperor of Dahlia. I swore to kill him, should he show himself here. I see he sent one of his relations to do his dirty work." The voice was male, cold and cruel, yet it had the semblance of regality.
   
    "It doesn't matter about what Emperor Lune has to do with this, but he's sent us on a mission to defeat an ancient evil." Crys had found the courage to speak up.
   
    "Is this so? Then which one of you is the destined wielder of the Sword?"
   
    "I don't know."
   
    "A duel, then! First, I shall test the mettle of the one related to the Emperor of Dahlia." The owner of the voice waved a gloved hand at his companions, telling them to leave. They nodded, bowed and hurried away. Kara stood up straight and brushed her hair out of her face. She flexed her arms and held her sword ready. With her free hand, she took out a sharp dagger from her left boot and readied it.
   
    "Let me see who I'm duelling against." Kara said in a monotone.
   
    "As you wish." There was a rippling of thick material as a hooded cape was removed. A tall, well-muscled man was stood before Kara. His short hair was dark and tousled, and his eyes were a deep brown colour. His skin was pale, and he was wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, a pair of black trousers and a pair of shiny black boots. His hands were covered with black leather gloves.
   
    "Who are you?" Kara felt herself ask. She had not expected her duelling opponent to be as beautiful as this.
   
    "I am Rulakir Sorel, ruler of this land. It may not look like that, but I prefer to keep a low profile."
   
    "I see. Then let's duel." Kara held her sword ready. Rulakir pulled out a sword from a scabbard that was slung across his shoulder. The hilt was golden and encrusted with beautifully cut black onyx gems. The blade itself was pure black, and shone in the daylight that filtered in through a hole in the roof of the ruined castle.
   
    "We shall begin!" Rulakir held his sword close to his chest. Kara swiped forward with her sword, but Rulakir parried the blow and knocked her off-balance. He then thrust his sword forward. Kara fell to the floor and rolled to the side before the blade struck her. She flipped back up on her feet and made a vicious swipe with her sword. Rulakir blocked it, but he stumbled slightly. Kara swished her dagger at him, and opened a small wound on his left arm.
   
    "An interesting tactic. A rather intriguing fighting style you have." Rulakir commented, not even wincing at the wound that Kara had dealt him. He made a vicious lunge towards Kara. She evaded the majority of the lunge, but the blade just caught her in the shoulder as he brought it back. She retaliated swiftly, clashing her sword with his, then swiping down at his leg with her dagger. She opened a long gash across his right thigh. He grunted in pain and clutched at the wound to lessen the bleeding.
   
    "You do realise, although your tactics are indeed strange and effective, that it is not showing you are the destined wielder of the Sword of Eternal Justice. If you were the destined wielder, you would fight with just your sword." Rulakir's voice was stark.
   
    "I was taught to swordfight with the assistance of a dagger for parrying and to deal more damage if the time came for it." Kara explained. Rulakir shook his head. He focussed on her face, his eyes darkening slightly.
   
    "It has already been proven," he began, "that you are not the destined wielder of the Sword of Eternal Justice. The true wielder would be able to overcome my tactics with a sword alone." Kara sighed. She looked across at Crys, who had looked away from her.
   
    "Crys, if I'm not the one who can wield the Sword of Eternal Justice, then it's you." she said to him. He shook his head.
   
    "I'm not the one. I know that." His voice was quiet.
   
    "How can you be so sure, Crys? You must prove your point, by duelling with me." Rulakir added, with a challenging knife edge to his voice.
   
    "I haven't got it in me. All I want is to see my parents again. I'm not a fighter. I never have been, and I never will be. It doesn't matter that Emperor Lune had some prophetic tapestry."
   
    "The Emperor knew of the forthcoming clash between good and evil? If that is indeed true, a duel would be unnecessary. He is a strange one, yes, but if you are depicted fighting evil in this prophetic tapestry, then you must surely be the one destined to wield the Sword of Eternal Justice." Rulakir replaced his sword in its scabbard and picked his cloak up off the dusty floor. He pinned it around his shoulders, concealing the scabbarded sword. He beckoned to Crys to follow him. Together they headed towards a broken pillar at the far end of the long room. Kara hurried after them.
   
    "No, Kara. You must wait here. If one other than either the Keeper or the Wielder of the Sword of Eternal Justice enters this chamber, they would surely meet a terrible death." Rulakir warned.
   
    "The Keeper of the Sword of Eternal Justice?" Kara questioned.
   
    "Yes. The Sword of Eternal Justice was created by the siblings of both Orakio and Laya, that is, myself and Laya's sister, also named Laya. We created it in the hopes of using it to destroy this ancient evil, but by the time it was ready, the evil had already been sealed. Laya had to return to Mystoke, the Castle of Silence, in order to guard her sister's sacred relic, Laya's Pendant. I was therefore entrusted to guard the Sword of Eternal Justice. That is how I am its Keeper."
   
    "OK. Thanks." Kara nodded as she spoke. Rulakir acknowledged this with a simple hand gesture, then he scrabbled around on the floor by the broken pillar until he found a large metal ring. He pulled on it, and opened a large wooden trapdoor. A cloud of dust rose up as the trapdoor swung open, revealing a rectangular hole, shadowed by cloying darkness.
   
    "You might need a torch. I'll sort one out for you." Kara found a long piece of splintered wood on the floor. She still had her bag on her shoulder, so she rummaged in it and found another bundle of rags. She tied these to one end of the wood, then took out a bottle of clear liquid. She drenched the rags in it, wrinkling her nose as the sharp smell assaulted her nostrils. She replaced the bottle in her bag and with one deft hand movement, set the drenched rags aflame.
   
    "What was that liquid you poured on those rags?" Rulakir asked.
   
    "Oh, just a potion I made myself. It makes things catch fire more easily." Kara explained. She passed the flaming makeshift torch to Rulakir, who took it and began to descend through the trapdoor and into the cloying darkness. Crys hesitated for a moment, then he followed after Rulakir, watching as the torchlight flickered across the wall. He looked around, and saw the passage was quite narrow.
   
    "Come now, young one. This way." Rulakir called softly. Crys headed towards his position, but there was something about this place that made him feel uneasy. He had no idea what it was though. The twosome treaded through the passage in silence. The only noises were the footfalls of Crys and Rulakir and the slow drip of water that was leaking from the ceiling of the passage. A low humming sound seemed to reverberate through the air, but its source was unclear.
   
    The passage soon opened into a small rectangular room that had fallen victim to the ravages of time. Large drapes of cobwebs hung from the ceiling, and dust lay thick on the floor and on a pedestal in the middle of the room. The pedestal itself was crumbling, and as Crys and Rulakir approached it, several small chips of stone fell off it.
   
    "This place has been untouched for almost 1000 years, and the evidence of that is clear." Rulakir commented, his voice showing no emphasis or emotion. He motioned towards the pedestal and nodded at Crys, who took a careful step forward and reached out towards the dusty pedestal.
   
    "Nothing to be afraid of.... Prince Crys, was it? Do not hesitate, if you are indeed the one who will face this ancient evil, then you must show no fear." When Rulakir had finished speaking, Crys shuddered slightly. It was easy for him to say that. The prince had no idea of what was to come. He took a few more cautious steps towards the crumbling pedestal and reached through the layers of dust. His fingertips traced a long ridged piece of metal. He clasped his hand around it and gently lifted it from its bed of dust, coughing as several dust particles got caught in his throat. He lifted it into the air, marvelling at the way it reflected the flickering torchlight. It was a sword with a silvery blade, and the hilt of it was encrusted with rubies and diamonds.
   
    "Is this it? Is this the Sword of Eternal Justice?" Crys felt himself ask, still staring in awe at the shining blade.
   
    "Yes, that is the Sword of Eternal Justice, which I have guarded for nearly a millenium." Rulakir replied. He took hold of Crys's arm and led the prince back through the narrow passageway and back to the open trapdoor. They climbed out, and were greeted by Kara, who had a sour expression on her face.
   
    "You two took long enough. It's a simple matter of getting a sword and leaving, but you took ages down there. There's still another four things to do before the final showdown." Her tone was bitter, and this startled Crys.
   
    "Ah. You must be talking about the Five Tasks of the Warrior." Rulakir said.
   
    "That's them! We've done the first task, to get the Sword of Eternal Justice. The second one is..." -- here Kara paused to think -- "we need to go back to your home town of Cille, Crys. There should be two rubies in the hilt of the Sword, but there's only one."
   
    "The missing ruby is called Fraiya's Ruby. It is a gem that has an entire story behind it in the Samesinian Chronicle."
   
    "Yes, Rulakir, but let's not bore ourselves to death with the details. We'll have to hurry things along a bit, so... who here knows how to cast a Ryuka Technique?"
   
    "I think I do." Crys said, his tone having very little confidence in it. He picked up a broken shard of wood and used it to trace a large rough circle in the dust on the floor. He told Kara and Rulakir to stand in it, then he stood inside himself. He racked his brains to think of the words to chant, but they eluded him. Luckily, Rulakir knew the words, so he chanted them whilst the circle around them flashed a vivid purple, and once that had disappeared, the threesome had gone with it.



* * *


A streak of mauve light hit the paved stone path leading to Castle Cille, leaving Crys, Kara and Rulakir where it had hit. The town was empty, devoid of life.
   
    "There is something wrong with this place. It is too desolate." Rulakir's voice had no emphasis.
   
    "My mum and dad left here a month ago, and everyone else took off pretty much straight after. Dad wanted me to stay, so I did, but it got so lonely, but why didn't they take me along?" Crys wondered.
   
    "Maybe your parents wanted to ensure your safety." Rulakir suggested.
   
    "It's ironic, isn't it? They left me behind so I'd be safe, and now all of a sudden, I'm in danger. Cruel irony." Crys's face fell, and he looked away from Rulakir for a moment.
   
    "Come on, Crys. Let's find Fraiya's Ruby, then we'll move onto the third task." Kara said, putting an arm around Crys. He gave her a small smile, then the threesome headed into Castle Cille.
   
    The main hall of the castle was cold and gloomy. Thin skeins of dust covered everything in the hall, and nothing stirred. The silence was eerie. Crys took several careful steps further into the room. The only sounds that he could hear were his own footfalls, his heavy breathing and the beat of his own heart. His steps became more careful as he approached the throne at the end of the room. His eyes focussed on a glittering red stone that was set at the very top of the throne's back. He reached up to take it, but as the gem came loose in his hand, a sudden slamming sound and multiple clicking sounds told him that something bad was happening.
   
    "Drat! We've triggered the alarms!" the prince cursed, pocketing the gem.
   
    "Good security. Main door's locked, and there's now 80 hidden crossbows waiting to bolt us as we bolt out of here. Somehow." Kara commented.
   
    "You counted them?" Rulakir asked, his tone slightly mocking.
   
    "Well, there were 80 clicks after the door slammed shut. So that makes 80 crossbows."
   
    "There's actually 160 crossbows in this room." Crys said.
   
    "You're joking!" Kara cried.
   
    "Nope. My dad told me that although there's only 80 clicks, 2 crossbows pop out per click. You do the maths."
   
    "Well, never mind. We need to get out of here." Kara looked around the room. She picked up a rock that was conveniently on the floor by her feet. She hurled it at one of the large windows, but had to dive out the way as it rebounded off the window and flew back at her.
   
    "Oops. Forgot to mention about the Secura Techniques on the windows." Crys said. Kara whirled on him and scowled, but she looked around again, and saw that there was a flight of stairs leading up from the hall. She sprinted towards it, rolling mid-sprint as several of the crossbows fired at her. She evaded most of the bolts, but one got lodged in her left shoulder as she got back on her feet from the roll and she cringed in pain. She reached the bottom of the stairs, only to be blown back by an unseen force. She was thrown heavily onto her backside.
   
    "Another Secura Technique!" she yelled. She stood up and stamped her foot on the ground, then she whirled on Crys. "OK then, Smart Alec! Get us out of here!"
   
    "Keep your hair on, Kara. One minute." Crys looked around the room himself, then he made a run for the spiral staircase that was opposite where Kara was. High-pitched whines followed him as more crossbow bolts were discharged. He made a frantic dive to his left, but he was caught in the back by three of the bolts. He groaned in pain as he got back onto his feet, reaching behind him to find where the bolts had caught him. He found one of them and pulled it out with a little grunt of pain. Deciding not to remove any more of the bolts, he headed towards the spiral staircase again, and just as he approached it, he too was blown back by an unseen force. He landed on his back, snapping one of the bolts that had got caught in him and driving the other one deeper into his flesh. He let out an animal cry of pain.
   
    All the time Rulakir was standing in the centre of the room, watching as Kara and Crys made their futile attempts to escape from the room. He snickered slightly.
   
    "You do not think about it, do you?" he asked in a calm voice.
   
    "We were trying to get out of here!" Crys growled through gritted teeth.
   
    "Ah, but did you not see what happened after the gem was removed, Prince Crys? All possible escape routes were sealed after the gem was removed. If we were to put it back, the room would be open again."
   
    "Well then, you need to look at that gem, and see if it's Fraiya's Ruby!" Crys pulled the gem out from his pocket and pitched it to Rulakir, who deftly caught it with one hand. He examined the gem carefully, running his fingers over it.
   
    "It is Fraiya's Ruby. But we need another gem that is exactly the same shape, so we can fit it into that hollow on the throne... hang on a moment, I may have one..." -- here Rulakir rummaged in his pockets -- "ah, no, not that one... that one's not big enough... YES! This one will do it!" Rulakir pulled out an emerald that was (luckily) the exact same size and shape as Fraiya's Ruby. He strode towards the throne, gem in hand, and fitted it into the hollow. None of the crossbows had fired at him, and the gem clicked into place. The main door of the castle was flung open.
   
    "Why didn't you tell us before?" Kara asked sourly.
   
    "I wanted to see how you two would react." Rulakir replied with a smirk. He took out Fraiya's Ruby from his pocket and handed it to Crys, telling him that he should put it into the Sword of Eternal Justice. The prince took out the Sword and placed the gem into the hollow in the hilt. It clicked into place, and the blade of the Sword began to glow brilliant gold.
   
    "Its full power has returned. Now, for the third task... to test the mettle of the one who would seek to fight the darkness. For that, we will need to go to the Fight Arena, located in the Terminus Province." Rulakir said. Crys gasped.
   
    "We just came from there!" he cried.
   
    "Ah, but Prince Crys! The one who will challenge you in the Fight Arena said that they would only challenge you when the Sword of Eternal Justice had its full power, so that is why we did not go there straight away."
   
    "Then we need to get back there quickly! Let's cast the Ryuka Technique!" Crys traced a large circle in the ground as he spoke, ushering Kara and Rulakir inside. He stepped inside the circle himself, Rulakir uttered the words for the Ryuka Technique, and a violet light whisked them away to the Terminus Province.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART III: Chapter Three

 

 

 

 

Whilst Prince Crys and his companions completed the five tasks that were necessary to increase his chances of success in the upcoming battle, trouble was stirring elsewhere on Samesina.
   
    The abyss had been opened.
   
    A black cloud, thick with evil magic, streamed into a young woman who had been lying inside the perimeters of four circles. The two other people who had been keeping watch smiled together. Their malevolent task completed, they walked, hand in hand, away from the innocent young woman whom they had let the darkness taint.
   
    And from that moment, the abyss grew darker. The young woman, now controlled by the evil power, began to use the powers of darkness to destroy whatever stood in her way. Her cold, heartless touch turned life into death. The grass beneath her feet withered away to nothing. The skies around her grew dark and stormy.
   
    Once, this woman's soul had been pure. Now corrupted, she was a wielder of darkness, a mistress of evil.
   
    She chased after those who had made her become the apocalypse, the ones who had let the abyss of darkness consume her. They looked into her eyes, which were now pure black, hollow orbs of coldness. Their breath was drawn from their lungs, they could not even scream. The young woman lay her hands on their shoulders, and they both collapsed to the ground. Their flesh had been disintegrated completely, and all that remained of who they were was two piles of bones, a few scraps of clothing and some sporadic wisps of hair. This was no act of revenge, this was an act of atrocity.
   
    And with a cold, malicious laugh, the corrupt young woman left their bones there, and carried on her destructive work.



* * *


"If we keep heading this way, we should be able to reach the Fight Arena within a reasonable amount of time." Rulakir said to Kara and Crys as they headed through a dense forest. They pushed aside leafy branches and stepped over muddy puddles as they advanced through the forest.
   
    Half an hour after they had entered the forest, they emerged into a very large clearing. There was a large stone building in the middle of the clearing, and it looked as if it had been erected recently. The trees surrounding the clearing looked almost as if they had stepped back to make way for the huge stone building.
   
    "You see that building in front of us? That is the Fight Arena. We, that is, myself and Kara, must stay outside. Prince Crys, you must go in there and face the warrior who awaits in there." Rulakir said to Crys as they approached the heavy wooden door of the building.
   
    "I have to go in alone?" Crys asked.
   
    "Is that a rhetorical question? Yes, of course you must go in alone! Do not forget, when it comes to the final showdown between yourself and the evil entity, you will be alone."
   
    "Alright, I'll go in by myself..." Crys sighed and pushed open the wooden door. He looked through the opening and saw that the room that the door led into was huge. He noticed that there was only a blood-red carpet on the floor, and that there was no furniture at all. He steeled himself and walked into the room, closing the door behind him. He swallowed and stepped forward.
   
    "So, you're the one who would stand up against the darkness." said an unknown voice. Crys drew the Sword of Eternal Justice from its scabbard and inched further forward.
   
    "And you have the sacred blade of light, the Sword of Eternal Justice! Ahh, but just because you hold the Sword doesn't necessarily mean you can wield it." Crys swallowed again and took another step forward.
   
    "OK, enough blabber, now... reveal yourself!" the prince snapped. A young man, around the same height as Crys, was stood before him. He had long white hair that shimmered silver in the light. He was wearing shiny plate armour and carried a large round shield in his right hand. In his left hand he held a long sharp sword that had a curve similar to that of a samurai sword. It appeared the Crys's opponent was gleaming with menace.
   
    "My name is Sephiroth. I was chosen by Orakio and Laya to test the strength of the one who would dare to stand up to the darkness." Sephiroth stepped forward, sword in hand. Crys too advanced, holding the Sword of Eternal Justice defensively.
   
    "But... what if the darkness has already started to take over? Do we really have time to test my strength?" the prince asked. Sephiroth laughed.
   
    "Oh, it's not your strength I doubt, it is whether or not you are worthy of the title of 'Liberator of Evil'."
   
    "I've had enough of being pulled into fights that don't have any bearing whatsoever on the real task at hand!"
   
    "If you're not going to prove yourself in a simple duel, how do you expect to do it in the final fight? You need practice, impatient one."
   
    "I don't need to---" but Crys never finished his sentence. Sephiroth had cut him short by swiping his sword at the prince. Crys had only just parried the blow in time. Sephiroth stumbled slightly, and Crys lunged at him. He missed by a mere margin.
   
    "You need to focus, impatient one! Missing your enemy won't help!" Sephiroth made a vicious swing with his sword and caught Crys on the shoulder. The prince grunted in pain, but he soon steeled himself and jabbed his sword at Sephiroth. The tip of the blade pierced his armour and into his side. He winced as the blade was withdrawn, looking and noticing the blood that was dribbling out of the wound.
   
    "Look, can't we just get on with these tasks I have to do?" Crys asked. Sephiroth smirked and made a callous swipe at Crys's stomach with his sword. The wicked blade opened a nasty wound. Crys yelped as the cold steel bit his flesh. He was forced to drop his sword and clutch his hands over the wound in a vain attempt to stem the bleeding.
   
    "You can't bargain with your real enemies! I'd drop the whole negotiation thing if I were you. No-one does that any more." Sephiroth hissed, his tone venomous.
   
    "I wasn't... trying to n-negotiate, I... don't want... to have to do... unnecessary fights..." Crys grunted, feeling tears welling in his eyes. The wound was more severe than he had initially thought.
   
    "Ah. But this fight IS necessary. How many of the Five Tasks have you completed so far?"
   
    "Uh, two."
   
    "Fighting me is your third task, then. And, if you win, I'll help you with the fourth."
   
    "That makes this fight necessary."
   
    "Exactly, impatient one. Now, let's start again. One moment!" Sephiroth held his sword upright and bowed his head slightly. He muttered a few words under his breath. A green light enveloped both him and Crys, and when it had dissipated, all their wounds had healed.
   
    "What was that?" Crys asked.
   
    "That was the Resta Technique, and it healed all our wounds. Now, let's begin this fight again." Sephiroth replied. He held his sword to one side and narrowed his eyes in concentration. Crys wiped a few beads of sweat from his forehead and readied his sword, spinning it once around his hand.
   
    "Here we go!" Sephiroth cried. He brought his sword in a vicious arc towards Crys, but he was able to repel the blow and knock Sephiroth off balance. Crys then swiped his sword at Sephiroth, and the blade caught him on the arm. He did not even so much as wince.
   
    "I'm disappointed." Sephiroth mused. The wound was not a deep one.
   
    "Just a bit out of practice." Crys replied. Sephiroth laughed.
   
    "Out of practice?! I've heard them all before! Ha, ha, ha!" Sephiroth's attitude annoyed Crys. He cried as he swung his sword downwards and cut Sephiroth's arm again. This wound was more severe.
   
    "Don't ever say that."
   
    "If it makes you fight like a man, all the better!" Sephiroth stood up suddenly, gritting his teeth in pain. He took a step to the side. Crys did the same. The prince swished his sword to the side. Sephiroth watched the movement and took a few steps back. He then ran forward and leapt into the air, bringing his sword above his head. He swung it down at Crys, who only just managed to block the blow in time, but the force behind that blow knocked him to the ground.
   
    "Come on, surely you can do better!" Sephiroth taunted. Crys pushed himself up off the ground and pushed his hair away from his face. Sephiroth swished his hair behind him with a quick head movement. He held his sword across his chest and held his free hand towards Crys. He made a beckoning motion. Crys wiped several drops of perspiration from his face. He thrust his sword forward at Sephiroth, but he missed.
   
    "Hang on. I don't need this any more." Sephiroth put his sword down on the ground and bowed.
   
    "You're surrendering?" Crys asked.
   
    "No. I'm just removing all this armour. It's making me sweat." Crys nodded and lowered his blade. Sephiroth began to remove all the armour he had been wearing and put it in a pile in one corner of the room, in the shadows.
   
    Five minutes later, Sephiroth stepped out, wearing a long black robe trimmed with white. The scabbard for his sword was attached to a thin black belt around his waist. He strode over to where his sword lay and picked it up, nodding towards Crys.
   
    "Let's carry on this fight!" he said. Crys was ready before Sephiroth had even given the signal to resume. He made a vicious swipe at Sephiroth's stomach. He missed by mere inches.
   
    "Ready for it, Sephiroth?" Crys asked, almost sarcastically.
   
    "What, getting you to submit? Of course!" Sephiroth's voice seethed with venom. He swung his sword at Crys's ankles, but the prince managed to jump over the blade and retaliate by knocking Sephiroth on the floor with the hilt of his sword. Crys knelt on him so that his weight pinned him to the ground. He held the Sword of Eternal Justice just above Sephiroth's heart.
   
    "Not so confident now, are you, Sephiroth?" Crys hissed.
   
    "Well, I guess we can call this fight off. You've proven yourself to me." Sephiroth replied. Crys stood up and held his hand towards Sephiroth, who took it and stood up. He placed his sword in its scabbard and bowed in front of Sephiroth.
   
    "A good fight then?"
   
    "Yes." Sephiroth replaced his sword in its scabbard and brushed his robe down with his hands. He bowed in front of Crys. Just as he was about to walk away, Crys stopped him.
   
    "Hey, Sephiroth! Didn't you promise me something?" the prince called. Sephiroth stopped, but did not turn around to face him.
   
    "Promise?" he queried.
   
    "Yeah, you said that if I fought you and won, you'd help me with the fourth task."
   
    "You could hardly call that 'winning', impatient one. I merely ended the fight quickly so that you could get on with the remaining tasks."
   
    "Sephiroth! You gave me your word!"
   
    "Ha, ha, ha. I never made a binding promise with you. Now begone! Leave me be." Sephiroth resumed walking away from Crys.
   
    "WAIT! You can't just say you'll do something then not do it, Sephiroth!" Sephiroth stopped again and turned his head to one side. Several wisps of white hair hung over his eye.
   
    "I said leave, impatient one!"
   
    "I'm not leaving, not until you tell me what your problem is!" Sephiroth whirled on his heel, his hair swishing around him. He took several steps towards Crys.
   
    "I don't have any problem... did you say problem?" All traces of anger melted from Sephiroth's voice. He looked at Crys with narrowed eyes. "Now you remind me, there is a problem I have to sort."
   
    "Why didn't you just say so before?"
   
    "I didn't think you would help me. But I guess you want to help me, right?"
   
    "Yes, Sephiroth. I'll help you, but is it too much to ask... for you to help me in return?"
   
    "My assistance in your problem for your assistance in mine. Sounds like a fair bargain."
   
    "OK, well I'm trying not only to complete the Five Tasks and battle the ancient evil, but I'm also trying to find my parents. I haven't seen them for a month."
   
    "I have seen them. They were headed to the westmost peninsula of the Terminus Province, with a young woman. I believe that they are King Ayn Nestetine, Queen Isabella Carlos and Princess Mercedes Nestetine of Cille, yes?"
   
    "That's them, Sephiroth! What were they doing?"
   
    "I have no idea. But, as I was making my way to the Fight Arena, I heard Isabella mention something about an abyss consuming an innocent. Maybe my ability may help us fathom out what's going on here."
   
    "Your ability?"
   
    "Yes, I have the ability to, when I'm near something, discover what happened to them up to three hours ago. It's a useful ability, but I haven't been able to use it much." Crys took a step towards Sephiroth.
   
    "So, shall we go to the westmost peninsula? To find out what my parents and my Aunt Mercedes were doing there?"
   
    "Of course. We'd better hurry though. It's getting dark, and it is never a good idea to be at the westmost peninsula during the hours of night." Sephiroth began to hurry out of the door, and Crys followed after him.



* * *


The sun was just starting to set when Sephiroth and Crys arrived at the westmost peninsula of the Terminus Province. The prince looked around nervously.
   
    "This place gives me the creeps." he mumbled.
   
    "It has been said that the souls of those who were murdered during the Devastation War linger here. It's probably because this was where Orakio and Laya fought their one-on-one duel near the end of the final battle." Sephiroth said. He walked over to a small wooden box that looked like it had been discarded. He knelt down in front of it. Just as he lay his hand on it to pick it up, he felt a strange energy stream into his mind. He closed his eyes and did not move. Crys hurried over to him.
   
    "Sephiroth! Hey, Sephiroth! Are you all right?" he asked. Sephiroth opened his eyes slowly and picked up the box.
   
    "This box... this box contained something. Dark matter. I didn't see anything more than that." he replied in a low voice.
   
    "Is this your ability telling you this?"
   
    "Yes, yes it is. But the box alone won't tell us the full story. We need to keep searching." Sephiroth stood up and strode towards a flat rock in the distance. Crys followed him for some of the way, but then he hurried towards something else. It was a pile of charred bones, with several wispy strands of hair and scraps of material caught in the pile. Crys noticed that this part of the peninsula was devoid of life. No trees, no grass, not even any animal sounds. The silence chilled him to the bone. He shuddered as he looked closer at the bones. Some of the hairs, he noticed, were a turquoise blue colour. Some of the other hairs were a deep burgundy colour. His parents had the same hair colours as these hairs with the bones. He refused to believe the possibility that these bones were in fact his parents. He almost choked as he called to Sephiroth.
   
    "This might give us some more of the story of what happened here recently." Sephiroth mused, kneeling before the bones. As he reached out to touch them, the strange energy rippled through his mind and he closed his eyes in concentration. He heard the voices of the two unfortunate souls.
   
    What have we done?
   
    We never thought this could happen!
   
    It doesn't matter. We need to clean this world then rebuild it.
   
    The wielder of darkness can do that. Yes, she can do that...
   
    She's coming for us!
   
    Why? We gave the darkness control of that body, and this is how they repay us?
   
    Just run for it! Don't think about it!
   
    Aaaaaaggggghhhh! My soul... is being consumed...
   
    No! Not my love! Nooooooo!

   
    Sephiroth recoiled back almost as soon as the final voice's echo had faded from his head. He gasped and looked at Crys.
   
    "It seems that these two were responsible for bringing an evil power into Samesina. What's unfortunate is, they were killed for it." Sephiroth's voice had no traces of emotion.
   
    "But Sephiroth, who did the bones belong to?" Crys had some idea of the answer, but he hoped that his predicted answer was the wrong one.
   
    "These bones belonged to King Ayn Nestetine and Queen Isabella Carlos of Cille." Crys felt an unusual combination of sorrow and anger as Sephiroth revealed the truth.
   
    "No...! That's not--- they were the ones who... Sephiroth, why did they do this?!"
   
    "You're their son, Prince Crys, right? So what exactly happened to you a month ago, when your parents left? We'll have to try and piece the story together."
   
    "OK, well, one month ago, my parents said that they needed to leave Cille, to try and find out something about an ancient evil that had been scaring the folks in the town. They'd told me they'd go to Dahlia to meet up with Emperor Lune. They thought he'd know something about it. I got a message from them saying that 'the Box of Malady is not sealed properly, the evil is seeping out of it and corrupting that which it can corrupt'."
   
    "Ah yes, the Box of Malady. Orakio and Laya hid it in a huge labyrinth, but it was stolen."
   
    "Yeah, it'd been stolen by the cyborg Siren. Anyway, a week later, I got a message from my Aunt Mercedes, and she sounded like she was in trouble. She said that Queen Isabella had changed in some way, and that, for no real reason, she wanted to find the seething box of venom. What made it even worse, she had said, was that even my father wanted to find the same thing, this seething box of venom."
   
    "Were they referring to the Box of Malady?"
   
    "Possibly. It would make sense, but I'm not sure. Anyway, the week after that, I got another message from my Aunt Mercedes. This time, she said something about the opening abyss. She mentioned that a vessel was needed for the abyss to begin consuming, and that somehow this was to do with Siren's successor. Whatever that means."
   
    "Siren's successor... perhaps it refers to someone who wanted to finish what Siren had started?"
   
    "Could be. Anyway, the two weeks after that, I never heard anything from my Aunt Mercedes, or my parents for that matter. All that time, I was convinced that they were struggling against this ancient evil, and now, with your help, I find out that they were the ones who brought it into this world! And now it's up to me to stop it!"
   
    "This seems like such a complicated story, but some things don't seem to fit right. Like for instance, how did they suddenly decide to seek out the 'seething box of venom' and use Princess Mercedes as a vessel for this abyss?"
   
    "I know, Sephiroth. This really doesn't make sense. If only we knew of somebody else who knew my parents and my Aunt Mercedes..."
   
    "Prince Crys, maybe we should get on with the Five Tasks. We'll have to try and figure this out as we go on." Sephiroth stood up and began to walk towards a bleak forest of spindly leafless trees. Crys hurried after him.
   
    "What's the fourth task we have to complete?"
   
    "We need to find the Wielder of Light. Apparently, he is the last direct blood relation to the sorceress Laya, and the last of the Dragon Knights."
   
    "Where are we gonna find him, Sephiroth?"
   
    "I heard that after he helped your father to destroy Siren, he went into hiding in a cave in the Chalst Province."
   
    "Then let's go! We gotta get these tasks done... and also try and make that story fit together..." Together, Sephiroth and Crys walked through the eerie lines of spindly trees, following the grey dusty path that seemed to be leading them ever closer to oblivion.



* * *


Prince Crys and Sephiroth had walked through the bleak forest, and it had led them to the Chalst Province. The small amount of lifelessness in the Terminus Province was dwarfed in comparison to what had happened here. There was no sound at all here. There were no plants, there were no trees, there were no people. A dark grey cloudy sky hung over this desolate landscape.
   
    "The darkness has spread here. This abyss is consuming more and more." Sephiroth commented.
   
    "Wait... what about Kara and Rulakir? I was travelling with them before, but we didn't see them when we came out the Fight Arena..." Crys's voice was panicked.
   
    "I don't know either. My ability didn't sense anything unusual..."
   
    "Well, we'll have to worry about them later. We need to stop this abyss from consuming the whole of Samesina."
   
    "Yes." Sephiroth pointed to a cave mouth in the distance and suggested that he and Crys check it out. They got closer, and Sephiroth felt a strange magical pulse in his mind. He asked Crys whether he could feel it, and he said no.
   
    The moment the two of them crossed the threshold, Sephiroth dropped to his knees and pressed his fingertips to his temples, closing his eyes as he did so. Crys looked panicked.
   
    "Sephiroth! What's going on?" he asked. Sephiroth did not reply. Crys tried again.
   
    "Come on, Sephiroth! Snap out of it!" The prince tapped Sephiroth on the shoulder. No response.
   
    "OK, whoever's doing this, show your face, right now!" Crys drew his broadsword from its scabbard. He felt that using the Sword of Eternal Justice was unnecessary for this situation.
   
    "Prince Crys, have you gone crazy?!" Crys jumped and whirled round. Sephiroth was stood behind him, a confused expression on his face.
   
    "Sephiroth! When you didn't come out of that weird trance, I thought someone was trying to control you!"
   
    "No, it wasn't that. I saw something. With my ability. But... I shouldn't have done, because what I saw happened seventeen years ago."
   
    "What did you see?"
   
    "I saw... this man. He was tall, thin and had an eye patch on one of his eyes. His hair was bright green, tied in a ponytail, and he wielded a staff of some variety. It looked like he ran into this cave, as if he was... running away... from something." Sephiroth leaned against the wall of the cave and tapped his head with one finger, trying to think why he would see something that happened seventeen years ago.
   
    "What from? Could it have been that darkness?"
   
    "It could have been. That's the trouble with what I see; at first glance, its meaning may not be clear. I guess we'll find out when we meet up with this man." Sephiroth began to head further into the cave, but Crys stopped him.
   
    "It might be an idea to get something to light our way. Have you got any old rags or something like that?" Crys asked. He picked up what looked like a thick broken branch of wood that had been lying on the cave floor. Sephiroth rummaged around but could not find any old rags. Instead he made a grab for Crys's cape.
   
    "Why not use some of your cape for it?" he asked.
   
    "I guess it wouldn't be too bad." Crys replied. Sephiroth ripped off a long piece of material from the bottom of the cape and handed it to Crys, who then tied it tightly to the thickest end of the broken branch. He then made a deft hand movement over the material which set it ablaze. A flickering yellow glow was thrown onto the walls and the floor. The prince then walked further into the cave, and Sephiroth followed after him.
   
    The two of them made their way down a thin passage that led downwards. It smelled musty, and water dripped from the ceiling. Apart from the sounds of dripping water and the footfalls of both Crys and Sephiroth, the twosome could hear a faint mumbling sound. They walked further down the passage, and the mumbling became louder.
   
    "Who's there?" Crys asked quietly.
   
    "I don't know. Is it the man I saw in that vision before?" Sephiroth replied. He and Crys walked that bit faster through the passage. It began to widen and open up into a roughly oval area, the edges of which were surrounded with jagged rocks that were damp. Just on the edge of the light from Crys's makeshift torch, he and Sephiroth could make out the silhouette of a man sitting down on a rock.
   
    "He-Hello?" Crys asked timidly. He gingerly stepped closer to the silhouette. It stood up suddenly and came closer to the prince. Now in the light, it was revealed that he was a tall man with bright green hair tied in a ponytail. His clothes were ripped, torn and dirty. His skin was very pale, and the way he stood was almost zombie-like. He wore an eye patch over his left eye.
   
    "Who are you?" the strange man asked.
   
    "OK, my name's Prince Crys Nestetine of Cille, and I'm--" Crys began, but the strange man cut him short.
   
    "You're related to... him. I thought he was a good guy, but oh no, he just HAD to go release that evil, didn't he? I don't want anything more to do with his family. I lost everything because of him!"
   
    "You can't go blaming Crys for what his father has done! He's trying to set things right again!" Sephiroth said to the strange man. He merely shook his head.
   
    "Why didn't he do that a month ago then?!"
   
    "He didn't know that this happened! He hadn't had much contact with his father during that month!"
   
    "So what? He's still related to the abomination, so nothing's changed there. And who are YOU, anyway?"
   
    "My name is Sephiroth. I was originally charged by Orakio and Laya to test the one who would fight the darkness, but since I found him, I'm now helping him with the Five Tasks."
   
    "What you're telling me is, this... this... this spawn of Armageddon is the one who's supposed to save us from Armageddon? I love the contradiction there! Ha, ha, ha!"
   
    "This isn't funny, you idiot! You've got to forget this craziness about Armageddon or whatever, because now, Crys's father is dead."
   
    "Dead? Serves him right for bringing in evil. I guess Crys wants revenge for his dad's death?"
   
    "Not particularly, not after I found out about what he did," Crys said sadly, "and I'm ashamed to admit that he's my father."
   
    "The rest of your family wasn't too bad. Well, OK. I'll help you go after this evil. I've been slowly rotting into craziness in this cave anyway."
   
    "Besides," Sephiroth began to speak about the task at hand, "have you heard about the Five Tasks of the Warrior?"
   
    "Yeah, I have. What of it?"
   
    "It seems that you're the Wielder of Light. It was said that in the Samesinian Chronicle, the last direct blood relation to the sorceress Laya and the last of the Dragon Knights was the Wielder of Light."
   
    "OK, I get the point. No need for history lessons, Sephiroth. Anyway, let's get outta here." The strange man picked up a long wooden staff with an emerald set in the top of it. He muttered a few words under his breath, and the emerald began to glow with a soft green light. He hurried out of the cave. Sephiroth and Crys chased after him. When they got out of the cave, they saw that the strange man looked horrified.
   
    "What happened here? This is insane! Was it the work of that ancient evil?" he gasped.
   
    "That's what we want to find out," Crys explained, "and besides, we never caught your name. Who are you?"
   
    "Sorry for not introducing myself sooner! I'm Lyle, and I was the King of Shusoran, but that town has since been destroyed. And due to all this madness, I can't even rebuild it."
   
    "How pitiful." said an unknown female voice.
   
    "Who's there? Show yourself!" Sephiroth yelled. A young woman with long cerulean blue hair stepped out of the shadows. She was wearing a pale blue blouse and a ripped navy blue skirt. She had a tattered grey sash tied around her waist.
   
    "Princess Mercedes?!" Lyle gasped.
   
    "Of course it's me, Lyle. I... I was worried about you, and here you are. A bit worse for wear, but alive all the same." Mercedes replied. Lyle looked more closely at her. Her eyes, which were normally a slate-grey colour, were pure black. He shuffled on his feet.
   
    "Your eyes... they're different. They look... evil." Lyle struggled to get his words out.
   
    "Wait. When myself and Prince Crys were at the Terminus Province, we came across a pile of bones. When I touched them, I saw King Ayn and Queen Isabella running from someone who looked a lot like young Princess Mercedes here. I saw them in their last moments, trying to escape an evil that had possessed the young woman. They were killed." Sephiroth said in a low voice.
   
    "Now the story makes sense. I see it now." Crys mused.
   
    "Yes, Prince Crys. Your parents had originally gone to try and destroy what remained of the ancient evil, but as the seal on the Box of Malady was not complete, the evil energy leaked out and was able to persuade your parents to find the Box of Malady in order to perform the Abyssal Awakening. Princess Mercedes knew what was happening, and she was telling you. The part about Siren's successor makes sense. Your parents finished off what Siren had started, and brought this ancient evil into the world, using Princess Mercedes as the vessel."
   
    "The Abyssal Awakening? Siren called it the final awakening." Lyle queried.
   
    "The Abyssal Awakening is its proper name, for what it does is open the abyss that lurks behind the seals it may be behind."
   
    "Ah, Sephiroth. I hear much about you. I thought you were a warrior, not a scholar." Mercedes said, in a voice that sounded so distant and unemotional that it chilled Sephiroth to the bone.
   
    "It doesn't matter. You took over that innocent woman! You cursed her soul, and you don't even care?!" Sephiroth regained his poise quickly.
   
    "No, I don't. I don't care about the life on Samesina. All of it must crumble to dust. Don't you fear death? That's what happens when you die, you crumble to dust."
   
    "I'd like to see you try!" Sephiroth stepped forward, but Crys pushed him back.
   
    "No, don't do it, Sephiroth!" Just as he stood up fully, Mercedes lay a hand on his shoulder. It felt cold, and suddenly the prince felt that his whole body was hardening. When she took her hand away from him, Crys was now a stone statue.
   
    "What have you done to him?!" Lyle cried.
   
    "That's just a taster for what's going to happen all over this stupid world!" With those words, Mercedes disappeared in an ominous cloud of black smoke.
   
    "She turned Crys into stone! She's so heartless!" Sephiroth scowled.
   
    "Don't forget, it wasn't her. It was the evil power inside her." Lyle reminded him. A golden glow seemed to emanate from one part of the stone statue of Crys, and out of it came a silvery blade. It dropped onto the ground with a clang, and with it came a voice that echoed through the air.
   
    I was able to rescue the Sword of Eternal Justice from its stone prison. However, I cannot do the same for Prince Crys. The only way you will be able to rescue him is to defeat the evil power that has consumed that poor young woman's soul. By the way, there is an incantation you will need. It was the Fifth Task of the Warrior, but you have little time to waste. Therefore I shall tell you this incantation. The words are: 'Obscuris manifestus humanis'. Speak these words when you have freed the young woman's soul and separated the dark power from her. This will force the evil power to manifest as a human form, and then you can kill it by any mortal means you wish.
   
    "Laya! You answered my prayers before I even said them!" Lyle gasped.
   
    Lyle, you have not changed much, I see. Anyway, it is up to you and Sephiroth to take on this evil power and save the world of Samesina!
   
    "Wait! Mistress Laya!" Sephiroth called.
   
    Ah, yes, Sephiroth? What is it?
   
    "Prince Crys told me that a prophetic tapestry showed him defeating the evil power. He said Emperor Lune had it."
   
    If this tapestry was indeed prophetic, it would have predicted this. As it did not, the fortune teller that sewed it was only thinking of one possible outcome for what is to come. There are many outcomes in the future, Sephiroth. Besides, should you not be going after Princess Mercedes? You must free her from that dark abyss that has consumed her!
   
    "You're right, Mistress Laya. But do you know where she's headed?"
   
    Yes, of course. She is headed for the Helskiz Province. Hurry now - time is of the essence!
   
    "Yes, OK! We'll go!" Sephiroth picked up the Sword of Eternal Justice from the dusty ground. He signalled to Lyle.
   
    "We've got ourselves an evil to beat. Let's go." Sephiroth hurried towards a belt of trees that were slowly losing their leaves and drying up. Lyle ran after him, and together they headed towards the final showdown against the abyss of darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART III: Chapter Four

 

 

 

 

Mercedes was the first to arrive at the Helskiz Province. But as she treaded on the ground, the grass withered and crumbled into dust, leaving only a barren rocky plain. She looked around, and anything that was in the line of her gaze was immediately stripped of life and turned to dust.
   
    Sephiroth and Lyle arrived just moments later, and they watched in horror as the lush green lands and the clear blue waters of the Helskiz Province were turned into desolate wastelands and cold black pools of darkness before their eyes.
   
    "You're too late, boys. This place is dead. And you soon will be." Mercedes snarled, her normally sweet voice corrupted by the evil power that had taken over her.
   
    "We'll see about that. En garde!" Sephiroth readied the Sword of Eternal Justice and narrowed his eyes in concentration. Meanwhile, Mercedes drew a sword from a scabbard attached to her sash. The blade was pure black, and it pulsed with evil.
   
    "I hope you're ready... Sephiroth, was it? Because my blade is the polar opposite of yours. This is the Blade of Light's Bane, also known as the Sword of Eternal Injustice!" She thrust the blade forward, but Sephiroth was able to evade it.
   
    "You'll regret harming that poor young woman!" he hissed, twirling the Sword in front of him in such a way that it seemed a frontal attack would be impossible. Even with that manoeuvre, Mercedes was still able to penetrate his defence and leave a cut on his arm, but Sephiroth did not wince.
   
    "Is that all you can do?! You call yourself a formidable ancient evil?!" he bawled. Meanwhile, a little way off, Lyle was knelt down on the floor, chanting words under his breath. The end of his staff was glowing with a yellow light, and Mercedes had seen it. She charged forward and struck Lyle with the blade, leaving a deep cut in his side. He cried in pain as the cold blade cut through his flesh and the evil power throbbed through him. He clutched at the wound with one hand, trying to stem the bleeding, whilst he focussed on resuming his chant.
   
    "Can you speak in Ancient Samesinian, Lyle?" Sephiroth called.
   
    "Well, duh! Of course! Why, what is it?"
   
    "I'll explain later!" Sephiroth parried a blow from Mercedes before he could say anything more. He hissed a sharp command at Lyle in Ancient Samesinian whilst trying to fend off blows from Mercedes's blade. Lyle quickly hurried away from the battlefield as soon as Sephiroth gave him the signal that Mercedes didn't have her attention on him.
   
    "I'm curious. What did you tell him?" Mercedes asked in a cold voice.
   
    "It doesn't matter." Sephiroth snapped.
   
    "I think it does." She pushed Sephiroth to the floor with her free hand, and levelled the point of the Sword of Eternal Injustice with his heart. She regarded him with a cruel stare. "What were you saying to him? And why?"
   
    "Well, if I'm going to die anyway, I might as well. I was telling him that I'd see him in the afterlife." Sephiroth tried to shuffle away from Mercedes as he spoke, but she advanced on him as he moved away.
   
    "He ran. Why?" Her voice was becoming colder and harder.
   
    "He wanted to see me in the afterlife, not the other way around." Sephiroth began to feel his heart beating faster. He knew he had to get up soon, or else he was as good as dead. Mercedes lunged forward with the sword, but Sephiroth rolled out of the way just in time. The dark blade struck the ground with an eerie clang. She soon realised that she hadn't got him. She looked around urgently, but did not find him.
   
    "You trying to find me, are you? Keep looking!" Sephiroth taunted. Mercedes searched for him, but did not see him. She swung her sword wildly in the air, hoping that the blade would contact him. It didn't.
   
    "You'll have to try harder than that!" Mercedes let out an animal grunt and brought the sword crashing downwards. The swish was followed by a sharp yelp. She reached down with her free hand, and pulled Sephiroth up by the front of his robe. He let out a cry as she forced his weight onto his left leg, which had a severe gash down it. Blood seeped out of the wound, and Sephiroth could not even reach down to try and stem the bleeding. He was forced to look into those black holes of nothingness as Mercedes forced him to stand straight.
   
    "It looks like your time's up, Sephiroth. How shameful." Just before Mercedes could impale Sephiroth on the blade that pulsed pure evil, a bright streak of light coursed across the bleak terrain and hit her full in the chest. She was forced to let go of Sephiroth as she fell backwards. When she hit the ground, she began to jerk violently.
   
    "What's happening to her?" Sephiroth asked, sitting up on the ground and shaking his head.
   
    "The dark power is being separated from her. I managed to do it." Lyle replied, coming out of hiding. He hurried over to Sephiroth and inspected him. "That wound looks pretty bad. Do you want me to heal it for you?"
   
    "That'd be great. And what did you do?"
   
    "I cast the Separa Technique. It's a way of freeing people from possessing spirits. I had to chant a lot because this ancient evil is so powerful. Anyway, let's heal you up." Lyle tapped his staff on Sephiroth's leg and muttered a few words under his breath. The tip of his staff glowed, but nothing else happened.
   
    "Maybe that blade... maybe it tainted the wound somehow, so healing techniques don't work?"
   
    "I cast a pretty powerful Resta Technique!"
   
    "We'd better worry about that later. Look!" Sephiroth tapped Lyle on the shoulder and drew his attention to several plumes of black fog that lingered over Mercedes's unconscious body. A deep, maniacal voice cut through the air.
   
    My freedom is nigh. The terrible bonds that sealed me have been broken. My soul is regenerated. Soon, the world will bow before me, or all will become dust!
   
    "It can't be!" Lyle cried. He stared at the black fog with wide eyes.



* * *


For several moments, nothing moved. When the dark voice had pierced the air, Sephiroth and Lyle were frozen to the spot, feeling fear clawing at them.
   
    Can you not feel it, imbeciles? That pain that consumes you. I feel it. Allow me to take it away.
   
    "Never!" Sephiroth shouted in defiance. "We will never bow to you, nor your selfish desires!" A cold laugh stabbed at Sephiroth's soul.
   
    But I can make you great, Sephiroth. Orakio and Laya merely made you to be their tool to find the one who would be most fitting for me to kill. Do you want power? Do you want everyone to bow before you as your loyal slaves?
   
    "I'm happy with what I've got, and I know it's not much, but I'm content with it! I don't want what you want!"
   
    Come now, Sephiroth. The dark smoke streamed towards Sephiroth and coiled around him like a snake. I can read your desires. I see that you want a better place in this world. I can give you what you desire.
   
    "The only thing I desire right now is for YOU to go to hell, and take your stinking temptations with you!"
   
    But what if we already are in hell, Sephiroth? What if Samesina IS hell? If you and I were in hell, adn you could wish for one thing, what would it be? Let me enlighten you with what I can offer. Sephiroth felt a powerful dark magic rip through his mind. It was very similar to his ability, but this was much more potent. Images of death, gore and macabre sightings filled his head. More disturbing images filtered in his mind, and Sephiroth felt tears welling in his eyes. He would never let this dark menace do these things.
   
    Now do you see what I offer you? You would be willing to throw all that glory away for some stupid idiots who you have only just met?
   
    "No... I won't... I won't let you do this." Sephiroth struggled to get his words out. The images that he had just seen were lingering in his subconscious.
   
    You are weak, Sephiroth. Sooner or later, you will see just how great an offer you are turning down.
   
    "If you try and tempt him ONE MORE TIME, I'll be forced to do something you REALLY do not want me to do." Lyle stood up and faced the dark matter with a cool gaze.
   
    Such strong will! You would be perfect for my new world. How about I show you my vision for this new world? The dark fog swirled around Lyle like a black tornado.
   
    "No! You're not gonna tempt me with all that rubbish!" Lyle waved his staff frantically at the black fog, but it did not appear harmed. He cringed, but he soon righted himself. He called to Sephiroth.
   
    "The incantation! We need the incantation! Can you remember it?"
   
    "What incantation?!" Sephiroth called back in reply.
   
    "The incantation that Laya gave us! You know, the one that makes the dark matter take a human form?"
   
    I will never take such a ridiculous form to do my bidding. Humans are only good as vessels. As the dark matter spoke these words, Sephiroth racked his brains for the incantation. He held his hand towards the dark fog.
   
    "What was it... oh... Obscuris Manifestus Humanis!" Sephiroth watched as the incantation began to take effect. The dark fog seemed to condense as it sank to the ground in a vaguely human shape. Several wisps of black smoke evaporated, and a tall man wearing a black robe trimmed with red was stood where the fog had been.
   
    "Very good, Sephiroth. You figured out my weakness. As a reward, I shall make this battle a lot more difficult for you." The man held his hand towards Lyle and hoisted him up into the air with a powerful telekinetic magic. There was a sickening snap, then Lyle was dropped back down on the ground. Sephiroth rushed over to him and checked him. The telekinetic magic had been used to break his neck.
   
    "You just don't get it, do you? It doesn't matter what you do to try and make me join you, I will NEVER join you!" With these words, Sephiroth readied the Sword of Eternal Justice. The dark man faced him with the Sword of Eternal Injustice in his hand.
   
    "My name is Tsenko, the Dark Force. You will remember that name, for it is the last name you will ever hear in what little life you have remaining!" Tsenko charged forward with his sword, but Sephiroth was able to dodge out of the way. He cringed in pain as he leaned on his left leg to stand up. He readied the Sword of Eternal Justice again and regarded Tsenko with a narrow stare.
   
    "Ah yes, but my name is Sephiroth, and I'm your worst nightmare." Tsenko let out a cry of rage and lunged at Sephiroth with his sword, but he was able to repel the blow and knock Tsenko off balance. He smacked him in the face with the hilt of his sword, and Tsenko fell to the floor. Sephiroth was about to swing his sword down upon Tsenko, but his adversary had disappeared!
   
    "Behind you!" Tsenko hissed. Sephiroth whirled round, but he saw no-one. He still had his sword raised high above his head.
   
    "Try over here!" Sephiroth spun round to his right, but Tsenko was not there. He was about to lower his blade, but he could not move his arms! A powerful magic had rooted him to the spot, and now he was at the mercy of Tsenko, or distinct lack thereof. Sephiroth felt his arms being forced downwards, but he tried to resist. The pain was unbearable. The more he resisted, the more he was forced. Eventually Sephiroth stopped resisting, and he felt his arms swing down with the blade so suddenly that he did not expect the sword to pierce him right through the stomach. But it had. Sephiroth moaned in pain and fell to his knees, his hands around the blade, now soaked with his own blood.
   
    "This is not combat, this is sport!" Tsenko laughed. Sephiroth grunted in pain again, but faced Tsenko with a hard stare.
   
    "You forget... that I can't be killed... with this blade..." Sephiroth let out a laugh as he withdrew the blade from his body. The wound healed as it was pulled out. The expression on Tsenko's face changed from triumph to horror.
   
    "How is that possible? That wound should have killed you!" he growled. Sephiroth gave a smirk.
   
    "You can't kill a good guy with a good guy's sword. But you CAN kill a bad guy with a good guy's sword."
   
    "But the reverse is also true." As Tsenko spoke these words, some of Sephiroth's confidence began to fizzle out.
   
    "It doesn't matter! This ends right here, right now!" Sephiroth lunged towards Tsenko, Sword of Eternal Justice in hand, and stabbed him right through the chest. Pure black blood dribbled out of the wound as the sword was withdrawn.
   
    "Sephiroth... you have... foiled me... all the things... I could have done... but now... my time... is at it's... end...." Tsenko fell to his knees, then he fell completely to the ground. Sephiroth hobbled over to Tsenko's dead body and knelt over it.
   
    "You rot in hell first. I will join you someday." Sephiroth then stood up and hurried over to Lyle as fast as he could manage with his injuries. He noticed that Lyle was alive. Destroying Tsenko had meant that the injustices that had been committed were beginning to reverse themselves.
   
    "Is it... Sephiroth, did you finish the dark man?" Lyle asked. Sephiroth nodded and smiled.
   
    "It's finally over."
   
    "What about Crys? Is he OK, too?"
   
    "We should check."
   
    "Sephiroth! Lyle! Are you there?" called a voice.
   
    "Princess Mercedes? Are you OK?" Lyle asked. Mercedes looked at him with her slate-grey eyes.
   
    "Thanks to you and Sephiroth, I am now. But what about my nephew, Crys? I turned him to stone and killed him, didn't I?"
   
    "That wasn't you, that was Tsenko."
   
    "Tsenko?"
   
    "Also known as the Dark Force. He was the one who possessed you and made you do those terrible things."
   
    "Anyway, we should go and check on Prince Crys." Sephiroth reminded them. Together, he, Lyle and Mercedes headed towards the Chalst Province.



* * *


Sephiroth, Lyle and Mercedes returned to the Chalst Province to find that Prince Crys had been returned to normal. And so, after a long and arduous journey, the Dark Force was finally defeated and its influence had been removed from the world of Samesina. And slowly, the damage that had occurred began to reverse itself.
   
    Lyle returned to Shusoran and began to rebuild the town that had since fallen into ruin. In just five years, the town was back on its feet, and Lyle was once again its King.
   
    Prince Crys returned to Cille with Princess Mercedes, and although they were aunt and nephew, they rebuilt the town of Cille within seven years and ruled over it as its King and Queen.
   
    As for Sephiroth, he had bid Lyle, Mercedes and Crys farewell, and was bound for a new quest. He hoped that he would cross their paths again, but when, he did not know. All he knew was that his journey would be perilous, and he would encounter many hardships, but he would remain strong.
   
    Peace had finally returned to Samesina, but no-one knew how long this peace would reign for. After all, the future has not yet been written...