Fighting As One
Kara clasped Aron's hands between hers as the two knelt down beside her bed, resting their foreheads on the white satin sheets. The two cousins looked at each other and Aron made a jerking motion with his head. Kara smiled and then closed her eyes.
Dearest Laya, we plead with you tonight for peace on Dahlia and on the Alisa III. Morever, as thine handmaiden, I ask a blessing upon my cousin and friend Aron, who is at his wit's end. The nobles of Dahlia cease not to murmur about his embracing his Orakian heritage and, despite all of our efforts to publish peace and tolerance, we have but failed...
Kara's voice began to become choked up as she prayed and she felt Aron becoming emotionally overcome by his trials by the way he squeezed her hand. She went on praying:
Please show Aron the best way. Show him the way to win the battle between the two lines of blood that run in his veins. Laya, please help the young man I love to find peace and contentment in his life.
Kara remained silent for several moments. Both Kara and Aron remained with their heads bowed and their hands united as one. Kara could soon hear some light sobbing from her cousin. It had been a particularly difficult day for him, with a number of nobles from Dahlia making rude jokes to him about how Lune should've betrothed his daughter to the prince of South Divisia instead of him, so that
Lune's noble line would not be sullied by a half-breed.
Afraid of being labeled as a half-pint snitch who couldn't fight his own battles, Aron had not said a word of it to his father, the king, but kept it bottled up inside until he had met up with Kara earlier that evening.
The Dahlian princess unclasped one of her ivory hands from Aron's and wrapped her arm around his neck, pulling his head closer to hers, so that her cheeks could warm his.
For several minutes, the two remained locked in this intimate, yet innocent ritual until a still, small feminine voice whispered in their ears.
The blood of one shall not overcome the other. Instead, they shall flow together.
Both adolescents opened their eyes.
Did you hear that? asked Aron, somewhat amazed.
It sounded like a woman's voice, commented Kara.
Do you think—
Laya? Aron completed Kara's thoughts, still incredulous about what he had heard.
Both him and Kara got up and sat atop her bed. For several minutes, neither of them said a word. Aron began making some peculiar swinging motions with his arms, moving his lips silently as if he were repeating something he had heard.
Aron, my love, said the princess.
What do you think she meant by
Aron's concentration was broken by his best friend's question. He turned and looked at her for a few minutes without saying anything. Nonetheless, in spite of his silence, Kara had long learned how to see the gears turning inside of his head and knew that this was no different. Then he cocked an eyebrow, a gesture he made whenever he had a cockamamie idea of sorts. With a little smile, he gave his cousin a kiss on the cheek.
Kara, how much detail is Mieu able to keep in her artificial brain? he asked out of the blue.
Kara gave him a confused look and shrugged.
I'm not sure. A lot, I suppose. She seems to remember historical incidents dating before King Rhys' birth as if they had happened yesterday.
I have an idea. I may not be able to calm those around me, but I have an idea for making peace with myself...and really, isn't that the most important place to start?
Aron got up and, holding his cousin's hand daintly, helped her to her feet. After giving her a passionate hug, he took her by the hand and left her room. Kara didn't know what he had in mind, but was glad to see her beloved friend revert to his usual resourceful self.
Come, my dear. Let's see just how advanced a model of a combat android Mieu really is.
Aron, Kara, Mieu, Wren, and Laya walked solemnly down the halls of the castle of Lashute. Lashute was a city that floated above the dome Terminus, a city of legend. Aron had previously been to the city, where he had tried to have an audience with the king, Rulakir. However, he was not able to speak to the isolated man and thus had left the city without accomplishing much of anything. Now he and the others had returned to the city, but their reception was anything but warm.
As they walked down through the halls, Rulakir's monstrous minions, who stood against the wall like living gargoyles, fixed their demonic eyes on Aron and his companions, almost as if they were awaiting the slightest provocation so that they may tear him and his friends to shreds. The fiends, however, held their peace as the Prince of Dahlia and the others arrived at the entrance to the throne room.
Aron stopped at the doorway and turned to the others.
You know this is the point of no return, don't you?
Kara and Laya nodded. The androids remained silent. Even if Mieu and Wren didn't want to follow them, their directives were to protect the heir of Orakio at all times and thus they would follow Aron into the very depths of hell if they had to. Nonetheless, Mieu smiled at Aron and said:
My lord Aron, it has been an honor to fight by the side of you, your father, and your grandfather for all these years. If this is indeed going to be the final battle, then I'm proud to be able to fight by your side in it.
Wren smiled, something he rarely ever did.
Prince Aron, you know that I have no fear programmed into me. However, I'm quite content to be fighting by the side of you and your family and hope that this war that is totally devoid of logic will cease after these next battles.
Thank you, Wren and Mieu. May Orakio and Laya bless grandfather for having found the two of you. When this is over, I'll see about resetting your directives so that you both won't have to spend the rest of your existence just serving my family.
Mieu embraced her prince and held him tightly.
Thank you, Aron! she exclaimed cheerfully, giving an affectionate peck on the cheek.
Turning to Laya, he beckoned for her to come to him so that he may speak to her in private. As the blond-haired sister of the legendary warrior and princess to whom Aron and Kara prayed every night stepped over to where Aron was, the young green-haired boy couldn't help but notice his cousin biting her lip and staring anxiously at him.
Yes, Prince Aron? Laya answered melodically.
Aron reached for the princess's hand and kissed it gently.
I do not know if we'll have the opportunity to stop and chat again before all this over. I can't even guarantee that I will survive. So I just wanted to thank you for helping us during our quest, in spite of what had happened between you and father.
Laya sighed and then, looking deep into Aron's eyes, smiled.
My dear Aron, it has been a pleasure fighting alongside the Landen family. I regret that— Laya's voice trailed off. She took a moment to compose herself and then continued.
I regret that things weren't different between your father and I. But after Kara and Mieu explained to me just how hard it was for her father to change for good, I knew that Nial was needed more on Dahlia than back in Landen.
Laya— Aron started.
The golden-haired archer silenced him with a wave of her hand.
It's okay. I'll stick this one out to the bitter end. She gave Aron a kiss on the cheek and then turned around and walked away.
Kara, called Aron affectionately.
The Dahlian princess with the long, wavy green hair and armored blue battle dress came to her cousin's side.
Aron gave her a kiss on her forehead like he always did, a sign of his affection for her ever since their adolescence.
I'm going to face Rulakir alone.
Her pearly white skin went deathly pale at his declaration.
No, you can't! She exclaimed.
What if he's too strong for you? What if— Kara was already nearly crying out of fear.
My love, said Aron calmly, whose words caused her to look up and stare directly into his eyes,
I'm going to need you all as strong as possible for the fight that's coming after. We can't afford to face our final foe overcome with battle fatigue. If anything happened to you, Aron bit the inside of his lip as he said that,
Then I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
Kara, her hands trembling, reached up and caressed her prince's face warmly.
Indeed. If we make it through our mission, our betrothal will continue as planned.
Kara exhaled loudly.
Aron, but your father and your grandfather only made their decisions after their big battles. Why are you doing so differently?
Aron looked down at his feet and then back up at her.
Because I'm going to need my companion's love to get me through the next battle. I can't do it alone. For the first time since they had left Dahlia, Aron sounded genuinely frightened at what was to come.
So I've already made my decision. His voice was now more confident.
Then so be it. May this give you the strength to defeat your foe. Kara wrapped her arms around Aron and, pulling his face into hers, kissed him passionately, passing all of her love and emotional strength into his being.
After several seconds, they broke and Aron turned to face the door that led into Rulakir's throne room.
I want you four to form a semicircle around the door. If any of Rulakir's minions try to pass, show them how we do things back on Dahlia. I'm going to handle him myself. Turning to the red-clad android, he ordered,
Mieu, if anything happens to me, remember what I said: take the Nei Sword and lead the others against Dark Force. You're the only one here who knows how to fight with a sword.
Mieu nodded in agreement.
Don't worry, my lord. The five of us will soon be celebrating our final victory together.
The Dahlian prince strode confidently up to the door, and with a great push, opened it and entered the throne room.
Aron watched King Rulakir rise from his throne to "receive" his guest. The man was an intimidating sight to be sure: he stood over six feet tall and was nearly as muscular as Lune was. He wore a green jacket and pants, which were covered by the long, flowing gold cloak that he wrapped around himself. The man's eyes burned like two torches in the midst of a profound darkness and his demeanor was anything but pleasant.
Trying to disguise his nervousness, Aron walked down the carpet until he was only a few feet away from the evil king.
It ends now, Rulakir! he cried, hiding his fear behind his still-maturing voice.
Insult to my brother's lineage! bellowed the king with a voice that shook every brick in Lashute.
With what authority do you invade my kingdom and speak to me this way?
I come by the authority of the very brother you say I'm an insult to— Aron paused and braced himself for what he would say next.
—and by the authority of his companion, Laya, to whom I pray and seek strength.
Frail, worthless son of an Orakian traitor! How dare you associate my brother to that infernal sorceress who murdered my family!
Aron struggled to control his emotions.
Rulakir, it's over. All of the hate, the destruction, and the war...it's over. You and your dark forces engineered and plotted all of this misery. I've come to put an end to it.
Rulakir scoffed scornfully at Aron.
What do you know about hate?
I've endured it for eighteen years, you foul beast. Because of the hate that you perpetuated, I've suffered more cruelty than I should ever have endured!
Rulakir shook his head indifferently.
Just eighteen? Try 1000 years, little prince. Try 1000 years of being filled with so much hate and anger that death had no power whatsoever over you. Try that and you'll begin to understand just how powerful hate really is.
Aron had enough of the king's cruel rhetoric.
Let us cease this pointless pontificating on the emotion you embraced which has resulted in so much misery. Let's settle this like warriors.
Aron undid the clasps that attached his cape to his armor and threw the cloth aside. Rulakir responded likewise, removing his golden mantle and setting it gently on his throne. He stepped down from his thrown and towered over Aron. The fire in his eyes descended to his hands, which began to emit a powerful blue light.
Stepping back a few steps, Aron drew the Nei Sword from its scabbard and charged Rulakir. The prince swung his weapon with enough precision that he would've been able to split every single hair on Rulakir's head. The king, however, simply evaded each blow, side-stepping, ducking, and flipping over Aron's swings, leaving the prince to cut a useless swath through the air.
As soon as he spun around to face his opponent again, he saw the glowing blue fist of Rulakir flying at his face. Unable to react, Aron felt the power of the tsu technique strike him in the face, lifting him off his feet and carrying him to the other side of the chamber. His landing nearly knocked the wind out of him, and, spitting blood on the brick floor, Aron nearly went into shock.
I once used those same fencing techniques to slay the followers of your so-called goddess, Aron. There's nothing you can do that I won't be able to counter.
Struggling to get up, Aron lifted his sword again and charged a second time. However, before he was able to get in a single downward stroke, Rulakir savagely punched him in the belly with his tsu-powered fist, causing the young warrior to double over forward. The king then seized the Dahlian warrior by his neon green hair and tossed him like a rag doll against the wall, leaving a bloody mark where his face struck it.
Aron, barely able to move his neck, looked up at Rulakir. To his horror, he could only see a blurry figure. Blinking several times did little to help him see better. Then, as if someone had spoken to him, he weakly turned to the door. He saw a blueish, almost angelic personage standing there. Kara. His vision began to clarify a little and he looked directly into her wide, loving eyes. He noticed her lips giving off a faint blueish glow. Kara blew him a kiss and, all of a sudden, he felt his strength return.
Orakio's heir stood up and faced Rulakir again.
If I cannot defeat you with the strength of Orakio, I shall do so with the strength of Orakio and Laya.
Aron gripped the Nei Sword tightly and placed it partially in its scabbard. He gripped the scabbard with his other hand near the haft. With determination in his gait, the young prince approached the Lashutian ruler. Rulakir thrust his fist out again, but this time Aron parried it with the scabbard the same way a Layan would parry a blow with his staff. The boy followed up with a staff-like blow to Rulakir's ribs, taking the king by surprise. With a jerk of his hand, he made the sword fly partially out of the scabbard, striking Rulakir in the mouth with its haft, before jerking it again and causing it to re-enter its sheath.
What sort of fighting is this? screamed the king, blood running down his mouth.
Layan and Orakian blood flow through my veins. They flow as one and I fight in the same manner.
Rulakir roared and launched another punch at Aron. Aron raised the sheath to block the blow head on, but then let it drop, exposing the blade of the Nei Sword. Rulakir's hand was nearly split in two as the black blade sliced through flesh and bone, squirting blood all over Aron and the Lashutian ruler. Quickly sheathing the sword again, Aron swung his weapon in an underhand fashion, smashing it against his enemy's jaw and bringing him down to the ground.
The maddened king scrambled to his feet and barreled forward in Aron's direction, trying to tackle him. The prince stepped to the side and flung the sword halfway out of the scabbard, leaving a deep, bloody gash in Rulakir's side. Holding the scabbard and sword at the end of each as if they were joined to form a single staff-like weapon, Aron bludgeoned Rulakir's knee, bringing him into a kneeling posture. He then sheathed his weapon, spun it over his head with one hand, and brought it crashing down onto Rulakir's skull. Several creeks of blood ran down various parts of the king's face.
Removing the sword completely from the scabbard, Aron struck Rulakir across the face, nearly cutting it open from his ear to his mouth. The king soon collapsed into a bloody mess. Aron stood over him and looked upon him with pity. From the deep cut came a dark vapor. The vapor seemed to be alive, taking the form of some creature with thousands of little tentacles which soon aggregated to form a demonic face. The demonic visage let out an ear-piercing shriek and then disappeared into thin air.
You have freed me, the pathetic mass of lacerated human flesh whispered.
Please, destroy Dark Force.
Rulakir continued trying to breathe, each breath sounding like a desperate wheeze. After almost a minute of fighting to stay alive, Rulakir's chest stopped moving and the once evil king of Lashute closed his eyes.
Here, Aron, take this! Mieu said excitedly as she jabbed a trimate container into his arm.
You'll be fine, but I think you're going to have a permanent scar on your face, though.
Almost immediately, Aron felt all of his wounds heal and his strength come back. Kara quickly ran over to him and showered his face and neck with kisses. After several minutes of listening to her praise him for his courage and strength, Aron simply said:
Thank you, Kara. Thank you for giving me the strength to do it.
Kara kissed him on the lips.
Of course, my dear cousin. Like I said a while ago, I'll always stick by your side. Then, with a coy smile, she said,
Don't worry about the scar. I have a feeling that I'll find it rather endearing on you.
Turning back to Mieu, Aron said.
Thank you, Mieu, for teaching me how to fight with the staff.
Mieu happily accepted his thanks.
Oh of course, Prince Aron. After fighting alongside Lyle and Ryan, I was able to pick up quite a lot, even if I never intended to use it. Looks like it came in handy after all.
I must ask you, Aron, began Laya curiously,
why did you mix the Layan staff techniques with Orakian sword techniques?
Call it my way of coming to terms with both of my heritages. He then looked grimly at Rulakir's throne.
Come, my friends. Destiny still awaits us. Let's not keep it waiting.
The green-haired adolescent warrior drew his sword and pointed in the direction of the staircase that led to the dungeons of Lashute. Sninct! went Mieu's claws as they sprung out of their hiding places inside her forearm. The metallic ratchet of Wren's Nei Shot echoed throughout the chamber. Kara struck her slicers together, pointing one of them in the same direction that her betrothed pointed his sword. Laya held her bow up and pointed it along with Kara and Aron.
The five warriors then descended together into the deepest, darkest bowels of the evil city.