No matter how she stared, the stone wall remained a stone wall. Nothing changed that. Not the tears that streamed down her cheeks and burned her eyes, not the melee Techniques that shattered uselessly against the faint blue energy barrier, not even the pleas directed to Laya changed that. Pain, power, and prayer had all failed her.
You're just a Layan bitch, but...
A fit of coughing shook her body until it felt like blood was going to come up through her throat. When it subsided, Thea curled up more tightly. Why was this happening? Why her? Why? What had she done to deserve this?
...as long as the general doesn't find out...
She hiccupped as another sob climbed up her throat. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt so much. She didn't want to remember. She didn't want those horrible memories in her head. Why, Laya, why? Why had Laya forsaken her and her people? If Lune had been there... images flooded into her mind again, another painful return to the past.
The sound of explosions grew louder as the fighting came closer to the castle. Shusoran was supposed to be impossible to conquer, but not even Papa had been strong enough to stop the merciless advance of the mysterious cyborg army that had seemingly emerged from hell itself. No one knew anything about the mysterious attackers beyond that they carried Orakio's banner into battle. The only thing everyone was certain about was that they were not from Agoe.
In the end, the mystery of their origin didn't matter, especially when faced with their firepower. No matter how bravely the knights of Shusoran fought, they were pushed back in one crushing defeat after another. The Cille on their island kingdom were just as hard-pressed. The fleets were still intact, but the armies were decimated. Aunt Maia was desperate, just like they were...
Day and night, they fell, explosions so strong they shook the very foundations of Shusoran. There was no pattern, nothing that would get people used to the constant barrage. Sleep was close to impossible, fear was everywhere. Papa had come up with a cunning plan to try to break the siege, something that had given them all a little bit of hope, but it had failed. He had returned to the castle horribly injured, his eye torn out and blood pouring out of his stomach.
"We must flee!" He gasped out as healers worked quickly to staunch his wounds. "Siren! It must be! Red hair and... tears burned into his face! We must flee! Lann, take Thea and go to Cille! I'll keep them back for as long as I can, but Shusoran is finished. Only Lune himself could hold Orakio's Fist, and he is gone. Tell Maia to abandon Cille and take our people to Aridia. I'll catch up as soon as I can. Our kingdoms may perish, but we can save some small seed for the future. Now go, go!"
They had fled, down into the dungeons, where they would use the secret passage to escape, but even here, Laya had not seen fit to help them. Even as cyborgs assaulted the city, other dangers had infiltrated their once-secure home. They had barely run a dozen strides before they had run into a bulky armored figure with a face of bronze and tears carved into its face. At his feet were the corpses of several monsters, the stench of their gutted bodies a miasma of death that made her want to vomit. His hands held a wicked sword covered in blood.
Thea stared at the gruesome sight, paralyzed by animal fear. Siren, it had to be Siren, he had come for her. Why was Orakio's fist here? Why had he survived? Why? He reached for her, his hand sure to become a vice around her throat.
"Leave my daughter alone!"
The smell of melted metal and roasted flesh joined the putrid stench in the corridor as the figure staggered back and roared in pain. The enemy... was an Orakian? But...
Mama grabbed her. "Thea, we have to go before..."
"You stupid bitch!"
They both looked up. A steel fist struck Mama with brutal force. The blow launched her into the wall. She heard a sickening snap as her mother slid to the stone floor. Thea frantically crawled over and picked up her mother. "Mama?"
Blank eyes stared back as her mother's head lolled unnaturally. "Mama? Mama! Mama, please don't die! Don't be dead! MAMA!"
Before the grief could truly well up, Thea heard the enemy speak. "Orakio's Law... broke Orakio's Law... the General... said to take them alive... I don't want to die..."
The man pinned her to the floor. Cold stone pressed against her back as she struggled. With her hands caught, she could not even cast any Techniques to get away. The emotionless bronze mask was mere inches from her face, the eyes within the gaps slightly mad with terror.
"You're just a Layan bitch, but you're a witness," he said, his voice rough. "As long as the General doesn't find out, I can kill you, maybe even have a bit of fun before that and..."
The dungeon ceiling suddenly replaced the bronze mask as the man was pulled off her. Thea whimpered.
A tall, sturdy figure in silver armor loomed over her. He held the man who had killed Mama with one hand, its grip firm around the back of the Orakian's neck. She caught a glimpse of red hair and saw his silver face bore the same tear streaks as the bronze mask. Her body began to shake like a leaf in a wind storm. This was the real Siren. The true scourge of Laya's people.
"I gave orders," the silver machine said, its voice a chilling monotone that lacked the emotion or inflection of a Layan's voice. "The women were to be captured unharmed."
"B...but...they were like this when..."
The man's words were cut off with a strangled gasp. The implacable demon continued to speak. "Your failure is noted. Your insubordination is noted. Your lie is noted. Your punishment is decided."
An awful crunching sound filled Thea's ears as the man's head popped off. Siren had killed the man without effort. The corpse fell nearby. Empty silver eyes stared down at her. "You are now my prisoner."
Everything that happened afterward came in a daze. She was tossed onto a ship, chained with other women so they could not perform their Techniques. Some of them wept and wailed, others stared silently at their changed circumstances. A rough disembarking preceded a journey through a tunnel of metal and machinery. They emerged into another world before they were hurled onto another boat. When they arrived here, wherever it was, they had been marched down into darkness.
Thea sniffled before another coughing fit wracked her body. The Orakians who served Siren obviously didn't care for their Layan prisoners beyond making sure they stayed where they were put. Fetid water seeped through the cracks and pooled in depressions in the ancient stone floor. The air suffocated her with the stench of old moisture. The dungeon chill penetrated the rags that had once been her clothing and the blanket they had seen fit to throw into her cell was too thin to keep it out. The food was always burned and neither filling nor regular. There was no toilet, so she was forced to relieve herself in a corner. It was no life for the meanest beggar, let alone a princess.
She had very little hope left. Papa had once explained that Orakians had machines to keep Layans imprisoned despite their Techniques, but seeing it for herself was even more upsetting than hearing about it. There was no way to get past the energy barrier that wrapped her cell. Her strongest Techniques did nothing and there were no opportunities to escape.
There was no chance of rescue, either. Papa didn't know where she was. Mama was dead. She was in another world, far from her own, a world that belonged to the cyborg demon Siren. He had probably killed all the Layans who had once lived here. All she could do was rot alive. It was all she had done in the months since she had been abducted from home.
"Only Lune could stop him, huh, Papa?" Thea whispered. "Great Laya, save me from this hell, and I'll make Lune my husband."
It was a nonsensical prayer. She knew it even as she said it. How was the legendary hero from a thousand years ago supposed to be her husband? She had set a test before her own goddess. Laya had abandoned her and her people. If Laya was truly so great, then she should prove it by performing a miracle. In exchange, Thea would spend the rest of her life doing something impossible.
A bitter giggle set off another coughing fit. It was the sort of things deities loved in stories, right? Give an innocent an impossible task and watch them suffer. Maybe Laya was the same. Even though she had lived among them, who could really know the mind of a goddess? Maybe Laya had never suffered, so she never really understood them. Why else would the lives of her people be filled with suffering? Maybe...
A familiar roar echoed down the corridor as the whine of needlers and the booming of cannons filled the air. Thea forced herself up to hands and knees. Had Papa come to save her?
"Great Laya," Thea repeated hoarsely. "Save me from this hell, and I'll make Lune my husband."
Thea wanted to live. Even if she had to spend her life trying to perform an impossible task, surely, that was reason enough for Laya to lend her a hand... wasn't it? It was the last little ember of hope she had left.
"Great Laya, save me from this hell..."