Boomerangs flew from the hands of the girl with lime green hair. The two small wings spun rapidly as the faint artificial wind interacted with the boomerangs' rotation to produce lift, bringing the wooden weapons up to an adult's eye level. The combat tools 'sliced' the area on the target where the eyes would be before they descended sharply for their return to their mistress.
Adan watched carefully from where he sat as the boomerangs returned to their owner. Seven times out of ten, Kara could hit the target she aimed at. It was catching her boomerangs that gave her trouble, since her nerve often failed her; at the last moment, she would duck, afraid of getting hurt, and the boomerangs would spin wildly before crash landing.
He had almost learned that the hard way. The very first day they had used the training room on Dahlia, Adan and Gwyn had both watched Kara throw her boomerangs. It was the very first time either twin had been exposed to Layan combat arts, and they had not expected Kara would panic, given her surprising skill with the weapon. The twins had managed to dodge the moon princess's errant weapons, but one of her guards still had a bruise on his arm from not being quick enough.
Boomerangs were Adan's nemesis. He had absolutely no ability with the stupid things. No matter how hard he tried, he simply couldn't get the trick to making them spin and come back. For the most part, he disliked Layan weapons. He did well enough with dual staves, since their use was similar to dual knives, but he did not like slicers or bows or quarterstaves.
Kara ducked. The boomerangs crashed to the ground. His twin shook her head at her coeval, and drew back the string on the child's bow she was practicing with. He did not like Layan weapons, but he did admire a lot of their martial philosophy. Adan found himself fascinated by the concept of musubi they taught their archers and slicers. The way he understood it, they were taught to become one with their target and their weapon, so that once the weapon was released, the action and result became one, so the past and the future joined together at the same point. He didn't really understand it yet, but he was exploring it every time he practiced with his sword because he thought it might make him stronger.
Well, it was an Orakian combat knife, but on a boy his size, it was pretty much a sword. Papa had given Adan the long cleaver-like weapon when he had sent the twins to Dahlia for the summer. He wished he had had it when Greck and his toadies had tried to hurt Gwyn and Kara with daggers. Adan had arrived in time to intervene, but the fight that followed was the hardest he had ever been in. He had beaten the larger boys, just barely, forcing the bullies to flee, but they had left several very nasty cuts on him in the process.
Wren arrived just after the fight, but before Adan could come up with a reason why he did not have to be brought to Mother, they had been attacked by Robomen and men wearing Orakian armor. The combat android had responded to the attack quickly, gathering the children in his arms as he activated his energy barrier. As a defense, it was a temporary measure that would eventually collapse, but it had bought enough time for Mother to intervene.
The little prince shivered at the memory. He had not been afraid when he had fought the knife-armed Greck, nor had he been too badly startled when they were attacked. But Queen Laya in a rage was something that intimidated him. She had absolutely destroyed the attackers with an ease that left Adan in awe... and ashamed. He was the son and the elder brother. He was supposed to protect his mother and sister, not the other way around.
Mother had not been happy when she found the long, deep cut in his left arm after she had beaten the attackers. She had been even unhappier when she found out that the wound had come from protecting Gwyn and Kara from Greck. Father had also been very discontent with his wounds, though he had allowed Adan to have his way and heal naturally. Adan wanted the scars to remind himself of why he fought. His reasoning had seemed to please Father.
The wounds still itched, but they were healing cleanly. Adan rolled his head, relieving some of the strain in his neck from exercise. His sister nailed the target and crowed with triumph. His parents had sent them off to Dahlia to learn more about Layan culture. They'd sent Mieu along too, so they could keep up with their lessons. When Gwyn had asked what Mama and Papa would do while they were gone, Father had smiled and said they would "clean house." That didn't really make sense to Adan, since there were many servants in Landen's castle for that, but he had seen that his father would say no more, so he had kept his silence.
Adan stared down. The training room had a glass floor that revealed the inky well of the void, the velvet darkness relieved by the distant twinkle of far-off stars. It still amazed him, this incredible, eternal night sky that was supposed to be endless. Somewhere, Mama had told them, there was a world for them, a real world, so the Alisa III wandered the emptiness in search of that dream.
The void fascinated him, as did Dahlia itself. An ancient spaceship, the moon was like a giant version of Wren, all metal, ceramic, and high technology. Everything was controlled by panels, buttons, and machines and devices that he lacked words for. The metallic walls and surfaces bore a dull gleam that spoke of care for their homes, even if Adan personally couldn't tell one door from another. Luckily, Gwyn knew where they slept.
The training room was another marvel of technology. Besides the easily replaced dummies and targets, there was a holographic system to fool the eye and mind into thinking it fought a real foe, curious machines designed to strengthen the body through weights and repetition of exercise, and other tools.
"Are you alright, my prince?"
Adan looked up at a pair of concerned blue eyes topped by a mane of lime green hair and smiled. "I'm fine, my moon princess."
Kara had been calling her "my prince" ever since he'd fought off Greck, so he had taken to calling her "my moon princess" in return. He wasn't sure why she blushed every time he did so, but it was fun, especially since she was the princess of the moon. The pneumatic doors to the training room whirred open. Kara turned around. Adan watched a small woman enter, followed by his redheaded android nanny, Mieu.
"Mama!" Kara exclaimed before she ran over to the petite green-haired woman. "How do you feel today, Mama?"
Princess Thea Ra Mira smiled at her daughter and stroked the moon princess' hair. Princess Thea was a pretty woman with large, soulful eyes. Gwyn had told him those eyes were sad eyes, and Adan had agreed with his sister's instinct, though neither of them was sure why she was sad. Either way, she was sickly, and spent a lot of time in her chambers or in Dahlia's hospital.
"I feel a bit better today, darling. How are you?" Princess Thea looked around and smiled. "How is your training? Are you doing better?"
"Nope, she still stinks!" Gwyn said impertinently.
"Sorry, Kara, you know it's true!" Gwyn continued, unrepentant. "You keep ducking when you're supposed to be catching!"
"At least," Adan interjected, "Kara can throw them. I still have a bump on my head from the one you tried to throw."
"That was an accident!" Gwyn protested, her indigo eyes wide with false innocence. "An accident!"
Mieu grinned and ruffled Gwyn's hair. Princess Thea smiled at him. "I can see that Princess Gwyn is doing well. How is my daughter's protector doing?"
"Protector? That little runt? Ha!" A powerful voice boomed into the training room. Kara and Gwyn both jumped, startled. Adan grimly turned to face the owner of the voice.
Lune Kay Eshyr was a massive giant of a man, even larger than Father. His size was muscle, not fat, and it did not make him seem shorter than he really was. Instead, it lent his frame more intimidating strength it did not need. His long hair was a brighter lime green than Kara's, and he moved with the grace and ease of an experienced warrior.
It upset Adan that Lune seemed to lack any respect for him. Father was the strongest Orakian warrior and had never disparaged him, yet the strongest Layan warrior did not even bother to acknowledge him. It angered Adan even as it offended his pride.
"I am Kara's protector!" he protested. He was Kara's protector, as well as Gwyn's. He had the scars to prove it.
The massive warlord looked down on him, his eyes amused. Kara was staring at Adan, eyes wide. Lune glanced at his daughter before he spoke. "You're far too small and weak to be my daughter's protector, boy."
"I'm strong enough," Adan said angrily as his hand tightened its grip on his knife.
Laya's champion did not fail to notice. "Is that so, boy? You've nothing more than a knife. That tiny little tooth could never reach me."
"Lune," Princess Thea said, her voice disapproving.
"He's just a boy, Thea, no matter who his relatives are," Lune replied. "He'll have to learn that eventually, so it may as well be from me."
The little prince stiffened. He glared daggers up at the oversized hero of Layan legend. He bit off the words. "I am not just a boy."
Adan was descended from Orakio and Laya, the two deities of the Alisa III. Orakio was recorded in legend as a great swordmaster even as Laya was remembered as a powerful sorceress. Just the burden of being related to one of those would stress anyone, but both? Not to mention that his father was King Nial, the Champion of Landen who defeated the great Lune, and his mother was Laya, sister of the goddess!
No, he wasn't just a boy. Adan was fiercely proud of his family, but he also knew that he was born to duty. He had to live up to the legacy of his ancestors and their deeds and honor even as he made his own way forward. He had to balance his Orakian heritage with his mother's Layan blood, somehow belong to both Orakio and Laya, who had been enemies for over a thousand years. He was strong. He had to be.
"Try me and find out," Adan said proudly. He might be small, but he was an heir of Orakio and Laya.
Lune looked down at him, snorted. The great Layan warrior shook his head. "You are young. You would not last a heart-"
"Try me and find out," Adan repeated as he brought his knife forward in front of him.
Lune stared at him a moment before the big man walked toward the training weapons. He selected a staff, one of the short ones that could be wielded with one hand, and tested it. Seemingly satisfied, the warlord returned to stand in front of Adan. Princess Thea was frowning at Lune. Kara was staring at him, and Gwyn looked worried.
"I'll give you an advantage, boy," Lune said with a smirk. "Touch me just once, and you win. Though that tiny little tooth will never reach me."
Adan's pride burned at the insult the warlord had casually tossed his way, but he said nothing. It was not a fight to the death. Nothing but pride was at risk. But his father had taught him that there were only two kinds of battles: battles for pride and battles to defend.
The young prince attacked. He stepped toward Lune, his blade ready, and thrust, aim true. Lune brought his staff up and easily deflected the attack. The warlord's strength almost lifted Adan off his feet and the recoil reverberated through his arms. Adan managed to keep his footing, the blade between him and Lune's staff. The big man did not advance to follow up his advantage. Lune's eyes were amused.
He brought his blade down to his side, where a sheath would be if he had one. He once again stepped forward with his right foot and lashed out, his blade slashing through the air on its side. Lune moved his staff and blocked. Once again, the recoil from his strength pitted against Lune's shuddered up his arm, and once again, he retreated outside of Lune's range. Out of reach, he watched Lune stay put, the amusement still present.
Angered, Adan quietly rolled his shoulder. The recoil had not impeded him yet, but he was grimly aware that it would hurt later. He had put a lot of power in his attacks so far, but that did not seem to be the way. Once again, he brought his blade to his side, and stepped forward, slicing from the side. Lune blocked, but at the last moment, Adan twisted his hand so the flat of the blade hit rather than the edge. He brought his arm up awkwardly, the edge rising up towards Lune's hand.
The big man caught the deception, and used his superior strength to push the blade away. Adan spun, but used the momentum to dance out of reach. Lune stayed put, watchful. His eyes were still amused. Adan attacked, rapidly thrusting at Lune's legs. The big man did not back away from Adan's thrusts and deflected each strike without flinching. Adan once again withdrew after his attack.
Temper would not get him anywhere. Adan concentrated, keeping his temper under control, and unleashed a controlled slash aimed at Lune's abdomen. Foiled by Lune's block, Adan launched a series of short thrusts and quick overhand blows, doing his best to overcome Lune's defense. The warlord stood his ground, applying just enough of his strength to meet the blow, but not enough to overwhelm Adan as before.
So it continued. Each of Adan's attacks was parried or blocked no matter how quickly the young prince struck. Lune, unworried, did not flinch back from his attacks. The big man seemed practically immobile even after Adan launched a series of short slashes and thrusts he hoped would create an opening. After the first two attacks, Adan could see it would do no good.
He was getting tired. Adan was pushing himself hard, perhaps even past his limits. He was facing the greatest Layan warrior in legend. Worse yet, he was much smaller and younger. How could he pass through Lune's defense and score that single touch?
Adan took a step back. Father had a move, a very powerful technique that he always practiced in secret, away from everyone other than the family. Adan had seen him do it many times. He did not know if he could pull it off. But Father said it was the strongest sword art on Alisa III. It would win.
The young prince took a deep breath, and released the tension in his body. He put his blade at his side and used his left hand to hold the naked edge at its dullest point, just above the crossguard. The makeshift scabbard complete, Adan emptied his mind and focused. His blade would connect with the target. His blade would defeat his opponent. He would.
Adan's eyes snapped open. His right foot took a half-step forward. Lune was already bringing his staff into position to block. Lune had met this attack before and had countered Adan's strength almost exactly. Adan put all of his weight onto his left foot as he took an additional step forward and put all of his power into the attack.
The blade was drawn from the sheath of his hand and slashed from low to high. Adan felt the technique's strength the moment his knife crashed into Lune's staff and the larger man's weapon not only shifted, but seemed to fly high into the air.
But the technique was not done. The momentum of the powerful attack had already begun to turn Adan's body into a spin. Adan knew what followed. He added his strength to the inertia guiding his body and slashed out once again. His blade met resistance before it cut, the force causing something wet to spray before Adan felt something heavy crash into his left shoulder. He fell to one knee, but did not release his blade. He brought up his weapon to ward off the next blow. When he felt small arms around him instead, he looked up.
Lune was staring at him. The warlord's leg was bleeding from a deep wound in his thigh. The hand that been about to bring the staff down for another blow was caught in Mieu's deceptively gentle grip. Mieu was expressionless, but Adan could sense the promise of violence in the combat android's stance. Kara had rushed over when he had not been looking and now held him in a firm embrace. Gwyn stepped in front of him, her bow drawn, her arrow aimed straight at Lune's heart.
"That's more than enough, Lune," Princess Thea said as she walked into view, her face and voice furious. "You lost by your own conditions. Even if you had not set it so, Prince Adan drew first blood. He is the winner."
A sharp pain bit into his left hand. Adan looked. It seemed he had cut his hand open when he drew his weapon. It looked pretty bad.
"That's Orakio's move," Lune said abruptly.
Adan looked up at the expressionless warlord. "That's my father's move. And mine."
They stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Lune said, "Impressive. Your fang definitely reached me."