Sari knelt down on the crest of a sheer-sided bluff and examined the smoking form of a cyborg. It's midsection had been ripped open by a clawed monster, leaving strange metal parts she had never seen before strewn about the surrounding rock. Some coolant leaked from the creature's mouth, staining it's face and neck. Sari pressed her fingertips on the cyborg's eyelids and forced them shut. The sight was heart-wrenching. This cyborg looked all too familiar. It looked like a friend. And although Sari knew this dead cyborg was not the one known as Mieu, she felt as though she had lost a friend nonetheless. After all, it had been by Sari's order that this nameless, unknown cyborg had marched into battle and died. But that was a necessary evil. That was the cost of war.
Sari stood and scanned the valley between her small bluff and another one several hundred meters away. The lowland plain therein had been burned, decimated, in the battle of that morning. The charred ground still smoldered, and the motionless forms of monsters, cyborgs, and soldiers alike smoldered with it. Sari winced and had to look away. "Kill no living thing..." Orakian and Layan alike had broken their vow that day.
Still, the armies of Landen knew victory. Under Sari's command they had forced the hordes of Lune away from Landen's borders and into the wilderness near the cave to Elysium. Another attack could very well drive them off completely, and then Sari would see to it that the cave was sealed forever. She would not allow another tragedy like the fall of Satera to happen again.
Shouts from below pulled her from her reverie. The cyborgs were in an uproar. A few bold individuals had begun to march towards the neighboring bluff, where Lune's army was camped, even though Sari had given no order to do so.
Sari took a small metal box from her belt. She pressed a button on its top and it flipped open, revealing a screen and speaker. She fumbled with the device for a moment, and then pressed another small button located on the device's bottom. "Blasted ancient technology," she thought. "I'll never get the hang of this."
The face of a cyborg that looked somewhat like Sari's friend Wren, only much taller and broader, appeared on the screen. He was the queen's commander amongst the cyborgs, and strangely enough, his name was Wren also. "Yes, Queen Sari?" he asked.
"Yes, hello," Sari said, still not sure what to do with the unfamiliar communication device. Mieu had given it to her years ago. She'd called it a "visiphone." Strange word. "What in Landen is going on down there?" Sari asked. "I have not given the order to charge."
The cyborg nodded. "We know, Your Highness, but a new wave of biomonsters has just emerged from the cave."
"How many?" Sari asked through pursed lips.
The cyborg shook his head. "We don't know. Hundreds."
Sari sighed and closed her eyes.
"Would you like me to call the others back?" the cyborg asked.
"No," Sari whispered. "Tell them to charge."
The cyborg nodded and severed the connection. Sari replaced the device on her belt and scanned the area. At first she saw no new monsters, but then made out a black mass on the horizon. There could be no doubt it was a swarm of biomonsters, swiftly approaching. "May Orakio bless the keen eye of the cyborg," Sari muttered, and then prepared to descend the hillside.
Before she could do so, however, movement on the other bluff caught her attention. Sari stopped in mid-step and focused intently on a vague form that had just appeared on the summit of the neighboring mount. At first she saw just a head, then shoulders too, and finally an entire body. It was a woman. Not a monster, but an actual woman. It was the first time Sari had seen a woman in the Layan camp.
She was young, roughly the same age Sari had been when she embarked on her mission with Prince Ayn nearly twenty years before. The woman wore purple armor and purple headgear adorned with fierce horns and the Layan insignia. She stood in a knee-up position, with her foot resting on a rock. Her chin was high. She reached up and removed her helmet, letting long green hair and a silken bandanna fall down around her face.
Sari recognized the girl at once. It was Princess Kara, the sole spawn of accursed Lune.
Princess Kara, the illegitimate daughter of an unknown woman whom Lune had bedded in a fit of drunken lust. Poor child had been abandoned by her mother and ignored by her father, made despondent by his loneliness. The raising of the child had been left to Alair, who had, it turned out, too soft of a hand. Kara had grown up angry at everyone around her, and at herself for being so undeserving of love. When the war began again, the Orakians proved a perfect outlet for her bitterness and rage. She had let her feelings flow in a manner she never had before, and there was a chain of ruined villages and burned fields to prove it.
Kara reached into a holster at her hip and removed a small, rectangular object which she unfolded lengthwise. It was a slicer, Lune's own slicer, possibly the most fearsome weapon of its kind ever fashioned. It had a lime-green casing and a laconian blade that was a shimmering, metallic silver color. When completely unfolded, the slicer was half a meter long with a blade so thin on its edge that it could not be measured by any means known to the Orakians.
Sari stood motionless for nearly a full minute, waiting for Kara to descend the hill as Sari herself was about to. And Kara, in return, stared at Sari.
Sari could take it no longer; she broke her gaze with Kara and began to descend.
That, she would later decide, was a mistake.
As soon as Kara saw she was no longer be scrutinized, she reached back and hurled her father's slicer with all of her might. Split seconds later, Sari heard the whirring sound and knew what it meant. Without looking up she reached over her shoulders and removed her laconian sword from its hilt on her back. She thrust the sword upwards and outwards at a forty-five degree angle, deflecting the slicer easily, and sending it flying back across the valley directly at Kara's face.
The princess of Dahlia cursed and ducked as the slicer just missed her, imbedding itself in the side of an old tree. She hastily retrieved it and then began to descend to the battlefield herself, where the monsters and cyborgs had finally met.
Night was falling by that point, and the twin moons Dahlia and Azura were coming into focus overhead. Kara looked up and blew a kiss to the violet moon, her home, where her father Lune was waiting for her return and planning the fall of Landen.
Sari gazed up at the blue moon Azura, home to her friends Ayn and Thea, as well as their Layan kindred. Sari considered how fine it would be to have friends beside her during a fight once again. For fifteen long years she had battled Lune, and for fifteen long years she had done so alone.
By the time Sari reached the valley, it was soaked with the blood of monsters and the lubricants of cyborgs. She leaped over fallen comrades and enemies alike, felling one of Lune's horrible creature here and there, as she raced towards the center of the battlefield, where she knew Kara would await her.
And Kara did get there first. She stood atop a pile of three defunct cyborgs that had fallen one over the other as they were destroyed. The body on top was still smoking and smelled of petroline and burnt hair and rubber. It was an awful stench, but the Layan girl didn't seem to care. To her the odor of dead cyborgs was the sweet smell of victory, and nothing more.
But to Sari it was nothing but a catalyst for renewed rage.
"What do you want with us?" Sari asked Kara through clenched teeth, brandishing her sword in anticipation of battle.
"Consider this war a petition for the release of my aunt, Lady Alair, from prison," Kara said, staring down her nose at the sweaty and bruised Orakian queen.
"What have your troubles to do with us, Dahlian?" Sari asked. "Leave my kingdom be!"
"You are Orakian," Kara said, shaking her head and sneering. "And so are those who hold my aunt captive. All Orakians will pay until her freedom is secured."
"Yes, but why was she arrested in the first place?" Sari asked, taking a few steps closer. "For being a common spy! I hope they put her to death for her crimes!"
Kara's eyes went wide. Her jaw shook and she said, trembling, "Your filthy Orakian lineage alone would be cause enough for your death. But for what you have said, I shall enjoy your demise all the more! Prepare yourself!" She screamed and leaped off of the pile of cyborgs, brandishing Lune's slicer like a dagger.
Kara, though young, was a skilled fighter. Her speed and aim were true, and it was only Sari's experience that kept her from harm. At one point Sari tripped Kara, giving her a spare second in which to drop her sword and brandish a long laconian knife instead. Although her recent mastery of the sword had proved beneficial time and again during the course of the war, Sari's first choice for one-on-one combat would always be a knife. They were much easier to handle than a sword could ever be, and faster as well. Brandishing a knife, to Sari, after so many months of carrying a sword, was like a homecoming.
"Do you really wish to fight me, girl?" Sari asked. "I'm sure the tale of my killing six of your filthy monsters with one pocket knife has reached even your remote rock."
"I don't fear you, witch," Kara hissed. She tried to move her way around Sari, looking for an opportunity to strike. But she could not find one. She and Sari began to circle around each other like two street urchins knife-fighting over disputed territory.
Sari laughed. "You have the audacity to call me a witch, you treacherous spell-caster?"
Kara ignored the comment. "You will die for the sins of your fathers, for the sins of Orakio. Wicked Orakio, who stranded my father on that cold moon for a thousand years!" She charged.
Sari blinked when she saw the blade of the slicer coming at her. Kara was incredibly swift, but Sari was even faster. She ducked, and the slashing blade passed clean over her head. Sari looked up and saw her chance. She stabbed upwards with her knife. The blade imbedded itself in Kara's armor but did not pierce it.
The Layan princess didn't miss a beat. She undid a clasp and her armor fell away. Again she charged at Sari, this time more careful not to leave herself open to attack. Sari, her knife still in Kara's armor, dove for her sword and again used it to drive her opponent off.
Thusly they fought for nearly an hour, parrying and thrusting, again and again. It grew darker, and the battlefield was lit only by the light of the moons and the glowing blasts from cyborg cannons. But then there was a tremendous rumbling, and a flash of light lit up the night like midday. The combatants looked up and saw the blue moon Azura, the home of Sari's dear friends, explode. There was no fire out there in the void, just light, and then the pieces of Azura flying off across the sky and into the cold reaches of space, from where they would not return.
Sari and Kara both were motionless. Remembering where she was, Sari locked her gaze on Kara. Sari was crying, and her lip trembled as she shouted, "Kill no living thing! Your father's infernal master said to kill no living thing! And look at what he has done!"
Kara stammered. Father had said nothing of an attack on Azura. The blue moon's inhabitants were Layan, even if they were friends of Sari's. The moon's destruction was obviously the work of ruthless Orakians. And if Azura could be destroyed so easily, then could Dahlia possibly be any safer?
People are not so different. Sari was willing to endure all the horrors of war and risk great injury to herself in order to keep her homeland safe.
And Kara, who wanted only for vengeance, was willing to forsake her chance when a threat to her home and hearth presented itself.
"Retreat!" Kara screamed to her monsters, signaling in the direction of Elysium's cave. "Retreat! We must return to Dahlia at once!"
Sari watched, puzzled, as wave after wave of monsters swarmed past her without any notice of her presence at all. She, their greatest enemy, may as well have been invisible. In scant moments every last one of Lune's minions had gone. Sari looked at where Kara had stood and saw the Layan's bandanna, torn and soiled, lying on the ground. She picked it up and tied it to her belt. It would be a trophy, but commemorating what? Landen was saved, yes, but at what price? The cost of war was bad enough. Who among them could possibly afford the price of salvation?