The light of the two moons cast a dim light over the small village. While the outside temperature was not unbearably hot, the villagers kept all their windows open to take advantage of the sporadic cool breeze.
The streets of the small village were empty. However, if anyone had been roaming the dirt paths, he or she would have seen a small figure standing at an open window on the second story of the local inn. Occasionally, the figure moved to pace restlessly, but mostly, it was seen leaning onto the window frame, studying what lay beneath.
Thea sighed and stared at the bare ground below her.
Only a little further, she quietly told herself.
Just a few more days...
A small noise came from behind her, from the doorway. Without turning around, she knew exactly who was there.
It's late, you should be asleep, she said, softly.
So should you. She heard faint footsteps on the wooden floorboards, and before she knew it, he was directly behind her, close enough to touch.
I'm not tired, she truthfully told him.
I didn't mean to wake you up.
It's okay, I wasn't sleeping either. She felt his hands come up and rest on her hips, but she didn't look at him.
Are you worried about tomorrow? he asked.
Not really. I just hope we find what we're looking for, she said.
I do, too.
Now his arms were completely around her waist and his chin was resting on her shoulder. She closed her eyes and leaned back into him, inhaling the faint smell of sweat, grass, and other lingering scents resulting from weeks and weeks of trekking through the world of Draconia. There was something else there, as well, something else that was undeniably him, something she would know anywhere.
She liked to think she knew him better than anyone else. As his second cousin, and part of the royal family of the neighboring town, she had been his childhood companion almost from day one.
She knew his secrets. She saw what his parents couldn't, or refused to, see. She had been there whenever the other Layan children had taunted him, scorning him for being half Orakian. However, he never complained once to Rhys and Maia. Even when he was younger, Ayn knew that his parents believed that their marriage was a truly noble thing, that they were the ones able to overcome the hatred that had separated Orakians and Layans for one thousand years. Perhaps partially blinded by their self-righteousness, they failed to see that not everyone in their kingdom was willing to forget the past.
For all these years, Thea had silently watched Ayn become more and more embittered towards his family. He loved them, yes, but she wasn't sure if that love was anything more than an obligation.
She frowned slightly, but he didn't see. Sometimes she wondered why he...why they were even on this mission. He had no reason to avenge the destruction of Cille and Shusoran, and as for finding the legendary Satellite for a safe haven for the rest of the Layan people, he could care less about their fate. She felt that investigating the original attacks had not been much more than satisfying his strong curiosity.
Unless it was all for her. She loved him, she was sure of it, but she had never known if those feelings were reciprocated until the day he had rescued her from Lensol's castle.
She wasn't sure how many days she had been held captive in that horrible cell - it was difficult to tell day from night in her windowless prison - nor was she even sure why she was there. Curled up in a ball on the cold stone floor, she had thought she had heard footsteps, but at this point, she wasn't sure what was real and what was the result of her mind playing tricks on her.
The door had then slowly opened, accompanied by a high-pitched creak. She squinted into the darkness, unable to see anything...until he stepped out of the shadows. She stared at him for what seemed like hours, wanting to be sure that it was really him and not her imagination. Finally, she jumped up, ran to him, and threw her arms around his neck.
Thank Laya you're here! she cried into his shoulder. He didn't say anything, just held her close in a tight embrace. When the sobs had subsided, he gently lifted her head up off of his shoulder and brushed the few remaining tears away from her eyes. Still without saying a word, he lowered his head to gently press his lips against hers.
The memory of the kiss abruptly brought her back to the present. She was suddenly very aware of Ayn's hands around her waist, his lips on her neck, and his long, light blue hair brushing up against her arm, the faintest sensation...
She turned around, slowly, to face him, staring directly into his pale blue eyes just as she had on that day he had come for her. He brushed her hair back away from her face, moving his hands first to the nape of her neck and then slowly down her spine, back to on her hips. She closed her eyes and let him come to her, anticipating the soft touch, the slightly salty taste, the warmth of the contact. Leaning into him, she sighed, a peaceful, inward sigh.
They belonged together. She knew that. From an early age onward, she had always known that there would never be anyone else for her, there would never be anyone else she could love completely and selflessly; aside from her father (and, to a much lesser extent, her aunt and uncle), she cared about no one else.
Ignoring the fact that they had a long journey ahead of them the next day, she pulled him closer, closer, never wanting to leave him again.
Thea picked up a handful of dirt and slowly let it fall through her fingers. Wiping away the beginnings of a few tiny tears with her sleeve, she stepped back from the grave, feeling the stares of her four companions.
Fifteen and orphaned, not to mention homeless. What a plight. However, she refused to let herself think of where she would go in the future; for now, she had to concentrate on the present.
She turned around to face Ayn.
We can leave now, she softly told him.
Are you sure?
Yes. She picked up her slicers and dusted them off. In the distance, a small cluster of buildings was barely visible. She hoped that once they got there, they would find some answers.
That night, Thea found herself in a small room incredibly similar to the one in which she had spent the previous night. This time, though, she could see the ocean from the small window. Captivated by the reflection of the two moons on the dark water, she didn't even hear the footsteps behind her.
I didn't think you'd want to be by yourself tonight. The voice startled her.
I only wish he could have lived long enough to see your people find a new home.
Normally, Thea would have flinched at the word "your" instead of "our", but this time, she let it go by.
What if there is no
new home, Ayn? What if we don't find anything tomorrow? He would have sacrificed his life for nothing!
He silently strode across the small room so he was standing right next to her, uncomfortably close had it been anyone else.
Your father died in an effort to save his family, his kingdom. Even if we are not successful tomorrow, it was still a noble thing to do and he won't ever be forgotten because of it.
She stood there for a moment, unable to say a word. Finally, she let him take her into his arms yet again, seeking comfort in a familiar place. He held her close to him and stroked her hair, letting her cry as much as needed.
I've never felt so...alone before, she wept.
You're not alone, he whispered to her, kissing the top of her head.
You'll never be alone.
She rested her palms on one of the many windows, feeling the cool, smooth surface on her sweaty hands. It was over. It was finally over. There would be no more desperate searches, no more tiresome battles, only peace. Peace for the Layan people. For her and Ayn.
Beneath her, the stars swirled against the intense black of the sky, making her conscious of all she had learned that day. Never had she imagined that her home was part of a giant spaceship, endlessly travelling across the universe, or that the moons she had always gazed at were man-made satellites. But they were here now, on the blue satellite Azura, and the Layans would soon come to their new home.
Soon after they had defeated Siren, the group had split up to explore the satellite and see if it would make a suitable place to live. To their surprise, parts of it had already been somewhat developed and Thea had wandered into one of the larger "rooms" to try to organize her thoughts.
She picked up one of her slicers and absentmindedly ran her fingers over it, feeling the nicks and scratches that had resulted from countless conflicts with the renegade machines. Turning it over and over in her hands, she continued to look through the strong panes of glass at everything that seemed to be spread out before her.
It's incredible, isn't it?
She had been expecting him.
Amazing, she replied, turning around to face him.
It's so beautiful and serene, I can't wait to bring our families here, not to mention the rest of the survivors. I'm sure we'll all be so happy here...
He didn't say anything, only stood in the entrance to the room and stared at her. Unable to interpret the expression in his pale eyes, she broke the silence.
He ran a hand through his fine blue hair, searching for the words he wanted to say. Finally, he opted for simplicity.
I'm not staying here, he told her.
She cocked her head to one side, not understanding.
But Ayn, where else can you go? Cille and Shusoran lie in ruins, there's no way anyone could stay there, she said, stating the obvious.
He looked past her, eyes fixated on some unknown point behind her, refusing to make eye contact.
I'm going back to Landen. He paused.
Thea's eyes grew wide with shock, but he didn't see it.
After all these years, I can finally correct all the mistakes my father made. I can go back to Landen and reign over the people he abandoned when he wed my mother. By marrying Sari, I can begin to fix all my father destroyed.
Again, silence dominated the room.
You don't love her, she said, the words barely audible.
You don't love her. She turned to stare out the window again, unable to look at him.
How can you turn your back on your own family? On the other people you nearly died to protect?
You mean the people who ridiculed me for my entire life.
She ignored the interruption.
The people of Landen don't know you, Ayn. Nor do they need you as a leader. We need you, now more than ever. You say your father abandoned his people to rule the town of Cille; if that's true, what makes you any different?
He didn't answer right away.
I've already made up my mind to go, I'll be leaving in the morning. He hesitated for a moment, waiting for her to speak. When there was no reply, he turned around and left, without saying a word.
She waited for him to come back. She knew he wouldn't leave her this way. Closing her eyes, she waited for the sound of the footsteps, the sound of his heavy boots scraping against the worn stone floor. Eventually, she realized he wasn't coming. One tear slowly fell, followed by another, and before she knew it, Thea was sobbing uncontrollably, curled up on the floor. This time, however, there was no one there to brush the tears away.
The members of the small colony were frantic. Something had hit the satellite they called home, and soldiers were running about, desperately trying to save the people of Azura by loading them onto spaceships as quickly as possible.
Queen Thea, we're running out of room! one guard called to her from below her window.
Please, come down here and get on one of these ships immediately!
She closed the window and crossed the room to the door. Making sure it was securely locked from the inside, she leaned against it and closed her eyes.
Her world was literally collapsing around her. The place she had tried so hard to find for her people was coming apart before her very eyes. However, it was her home and she was determined not to leave it.
She had no reason to leave it. While she had been a good leader and ruler, she knew that she wasn't needed. There was no doubt in her mind that the people fleeing the moon could find homes elsewhere on the Alisa III.
It had been fifteen years since she had last visited the ship. Following the defeat of Siren, she had worked diligently to bring the survivors up to the satellite. She had become their queen and devoted all the time to their well-being.
There had been no reason for her to ever return to the Alisa III. Her previous home was in ruins and anyone who had ever been close to her was gone. Ever since the loss of Rhys and Maia, she had lived in her small castle by herself.
Rhys and Maia had also played an important role in moving Layans up to Azura. Their deaths a few years later (only months had separated them) had been upsetting to all. Out of obligation more than anything else, Thea had sent a messenger to Landen to inform Ayn that his parents were dead. He had never responded.
Thea frowned at the memory. While she'd never admit it to anyone else, she was almost relieved that he didn't come to pay his respects. She had no desire to see how happy he was with Sari, leading one of the strongest, purely Orakian towns. There were also rumors of a child, but she chose to think about Ayn as little as possible.
She had never told his parents how he felt towards them. She let them die believing that he had married for love and never once regretted it. Maybe if they were still alive, she'd allow herself to be persuaded to leave Azura, but again, there was no reason.
She half-smiled into the darkness. As much as she resented him, Ayn had been correct: she had never been alone. However, as she had always known, no one had ever replaced him. No one had ever come along to free her heart from the memory of him and now, she was prepared to die in isolation.
Further ignoring the pleas of the guards below her, Thea crossed the room and opened one of her dresser drawers. Tucked away in the back was a small box, which she slowly removed. Opening it, she gently lifted out the pair of slicers, only slightly dulled from age.
She sat down on the edge of her bed, her back to the window. Resting the slicers on her lap, she closed her eyes. If she concentrated, she could still remember every detail of his face. She had no idea what he looked like now, years later, nor did she care to know. He dominated her memory in his fifteen-year-old form, the one she knew the best.
She turned and placed the slicers on the pillow beside her. As she curled up with the thoughts of Ayn, the final, fatal blast hit the satellite.