A few hours had passed since Corg had proposed to me. I sat on my bed, staring at myself in the gold-trim mirror that adorned the wall to the left of my bed. I had a difficult time believing what had happened. I ran the conversation that he and I had had through my memory banks many times, looking for any nuance, any sign that it was Corg simply joking with me. I found nothing that indicated such.
I then found myself putting on the beautiful crown he had given me and staring at myself. Me…Mieu…a combat cyborg who had known nothing but killing…a queen? How could this be? It didn't seem natural at first. But then I thought of the affection and attention Corg had given me all these years. I thought of how much he had always confided in me. I thought my previous travelling companions, Rhys, Ayn, and Sean. They too had confided in me and sought my advice both during their adventures and during their reigns. They often reminded me that they never would have completed their missions and found happiness in their lives without my assistance. Corg was much the same way. His gratitude to me for all that I had done for him was constantly expressed to me. As I looked at my reflection in that polished glass, I smiled and felt reassured that his love was genuine.
I contemplated for a few moments how I was going to become a queen. A queen. No longer a bodyguard, a mere travel companion, or an unblinking killing machine. I let out a long sigh. I think it was time. I reached over and pulled back the skin on my arm, revealing the mixture of organic and cybernetic parts. Flesh, bone, and metal were exposed. I undid the metal braces which allowed my planar claw to be fixed to the bones in my arm and removed the structure from within me. I did the same with the Nei claw which was installed in my other arm. I stared at the two deadly weapons for a few moments, reflecting on how much death had been administered with these. It was time for me to retire them.
I got up and walked over to a large wooden chest that I kept in my room. I placed the two claws inside, right next to my force vest and red leotard that I had worn ever since I had become a cyborg. I was no longer to be a warrior; I would leave that for future generations. Don't get me wrong, I would continue to train and keep myself ready for any emergency, but I knew that bigger and better things were awaiting me. I closed the chest and lay down on my bed, trying to imagine how married life would be.
In a few months our wedding day came. We held the grand ceremony in the valley near the Beastmen Caves in the northwestern corner of the Hollow Valley. More than fifty years before, that valley had been the site of a huge, bloody battle between my companions and I and an army of beastmen. We came out victorious, although my beloved Corg nearly was killed during the fracas. I think it was there that I first figured out that I had feelings for him, though at the time he had treated me more like a mother figure more than anything else. But enough of that, let's discuss the ceremony.
It was a wedding unlike any other I had witnessed. It was held outdoors, with a number of large bleachers having been built to hold the noble families of the numerous races that inhabited the Hollow Valley and the neighboring lands. A large tent had been built for me to get ready in. In addition to my servants and waiting ladies, I was attended on by Sari and Laya, who came down from the Alisa III to preside over the event. They gave suggestions to the servants about how my make-up and hair should be done, and Laya helped the seamstresses put a few finishing touches on my dress. I went with the traditional white dress, mine having a sweetheart neckline, a floor-length gown, and a ball gown sillouhette. I wore a pair of white glove that went all the way up to midway through my bicep. But those details are really not very important, are they?
On the subject of Laya and Sari, I remember when Corg and I broke the news to those two and their husbands about our coming nuptials. We had gone to Skyhaven on Frigidia to visit them. Corg had insisted that I walk a few steps behind him, like I had always done, just to throw them off. He told them that he had decided to remarry, which they congratulated him on.
"So, you sly dog," Jack then asked. "Who's the lucky girl?"
At that moment, Corg stepped back a few steps so that he was right next to me. He then reached into his pouch and pulled out the crown he had given me and placed it on my head in front of them. He then lifted me into his arms and twirled me around a little.
"Why, this little lady, of course," he said joyfully.
Sari and Laya got up off their thrones and ran over to hug me in congratulations, telling me how much I deserved it. I know it's not the most important part of a relationship, but knowing that your closest friends approve of your union with the love of your life just makes you feel so much better.
After the basic "formalities" and congratulatory dinner, Sari and Laya took me to my room and sat me down to have a heart-to-heart with me. They went over the various aspects of married life with me, giving me tips on how to be a good wife and take care of my husband. Laya also gave me a few tips on how to manipulate him into doing what I wanted, should I ever need to do so.
"Who needs manipulation?" Sari quipped. "I just brandish the old daggers and everything falls into the place."
I had had a good idea of what I was getting into, having been around Rhys and Ayn while they were married and Corg while Christy was alive. Nonetheless, I took all of their counsel to heart and pledged to myself that I'd do everything possible to love and support Corg. Sari reminded me of the burdens that Corg carried, and that he'd need a very strong companion to help him bear those burdens up.
While I was thus reflecting on those events, I was distracted by the sudden roars of several different, albeit familiar, monsters. I got up and took a peak out of the tent to see who was arriving. From the depths of the beastmen caves came several large crocodilian monsters, the Phobosuchuses, which carried the Troglodyte nobility on their backs. The large reptilian monsters and their equally reptilian masters made their way down the side of the cliff in which the caves were carved and stopped at the bleachers. They were followed by the Lizard Men, who emerged from the caves riding atop the ankylosauruses, huge, rare, quadruped reptilian monsters whose back was covered in a shell full of large spines and whose heads had a crest of spikes, with a large horn at the tip of their snouts. The ankylosauruses let out loud, barking honks as they too descended the cliffs and made their way to the bleachers. I smiled to myself; Corg would be pleased that these two groups, whom he got along most with, were present. He'd be especially pleased to see the ankylosauruses, as we never got a chance to see them whenever we had business to do at the swamp.
I looked around the bleachers and saw that they were practically all full. Hundreds of guests from the different races, the Palmans and Alisians, the beastmen, the minotaurs, and even the Azcans, were sitting patiently waiting for the ceremony to begin. I pulled my head back into the tent and sat down again, waiting for the ladies-in-waiting to finish. I tried to distract myself talking to Laya and Sari about my plans for our honeymoon in Purapril, but there was no hiding how anxious I was getting.
"So," Sari began as she helped one of the servants curl my hair. "If we're going to be presiding over this wedding, who's actually going to perform it?"
I tried to stay motionless as I responded. "Well, Corg told me to leave that up to him. He said that for a marriage like ours, he wanted a special someone to marry us."
"Really?" Laya asked. "Do you think he asked Piotr or Jack to do and then told them to not tell us?"
"I wouldn't put it past them," Sari said, chuckling. "Despite the fact that the four of us now are...well…you know, that hasn't dulled that odd sense of humor that those three have when you put them together."
I wanted to laugh at that. "That's part of what makes them so endearing," I said, almost turning to look at them, only for a servant to turn my head back to the position it was in. "Even with so much responsibility on their shoulders, when you get them together, they forget about it and just have fun."
"So," Laya said, her soft, almost naïve-sounding voice making me feel a lot more tranquil. "The two of you seem to have a lot of time ahead of you. What are you going to do to make the time pass?"
Laya's question was a logical one. After all, if it were Corg's fate that he should live for a few more centuries, we'd need to have a lot to do. Otherwise life would truly become boring and interminable. "Corg and I discussed this a little. The whole time factor isn't so much a problem for me, considering that I once stood by a lake for more than two hundred years until Rhys found me. Corg had a number of neat ideas for projects we could do, including numerous different trips and travels, including a yearly trip to the Alisa III, plus his usual duties. He suggested that we try spending periods of two years with each of the races, living among them and becoming intimately acquainted with all of them on an individual level even. We'll see how that pans out."
It was about twenty minutes before I was ready for the ceremony. One of the ladies-in-waiting informed me that Corg was already waiting at the altar for me. At that moment, Piotr, who was decked out in a black jacket and pants that he called a "tuxedo", appeared at the entrance of the tent. I didn't technically have a father, so Piotr offered to escort me to the altar. The ladies-in-waiting and servants quickly hurried out of the tent and to the bleachers to watch the ceremonies. Sari and Laya left the tent and made their way to the thrones located to the left and right of the altar. I walked up to Piotr and placed my hand on his elbow and we walked slowly to the red carpet that led up to the altar.
As we walked down the carpet, I heard a familiar piece of music, "Generations of Fate" being played. At the other I saw Corg, who was also dressed in a tuxedo, according to the customs of his world. He beamed at me as Piotr and I made it closer to him. As we continued walking down the seemingly endless carpet, I looked at the numerous guests in the audiences and smiled at them. In the front row of one of the bleachers sat King Sean and Queen Kara, who had come down from the Alisa III to witness this special occasion. The happy couple was now in the twilight of their lives; they had long since handed their throne to one of their sons, who was on the verge of handing it to one of his sons. Years of peace and martial bliss, save for the occasional explosive rage from Kara, had softened the Queen's fiery disposition and pulled Sean out of his previously brooding state. They smiled serenely at me and waved at me when our eyes met. I saw the numerous tribes and races sitting in the stands, wearing all manner of cape, armor, crown, headdress, mantle, and whatnot, each according to its own culture.
It took about two minutes, but we made it to the front of the altar, where Piotr and Corg hugged and Corg gave me a kiss on the forehead, taking my hand into his. We stood at the altar, waiting for the arrival of whoever was to perform the ceremony. I squeezed it tightly with anticipation of everything that was to come.
After about thirty seconds, the ground shook, causing all the guests to quickly become silent. Another loud THUD quickly followed, almost causing Corg and me to lose our balance. The ground started shaking even more when suddenly the silence was shattered by a loud, elephantine bellow, one I recognized very clearly. I turned to see a huge dinosaurian monster moving towards us. It was over twenty meters tall, with a dark, charcoal gray hide. Its snout was a sort of rounded muzzle and its jaws were lined with two rows of teeth. Running down its back and tail was a row of jagged, irregular spines. It made its way to the altar, each step shaking the bleachers and threatening to knock them to the ground.
I looked at Corg incredulously. "Ka? You got Ka, the god of the Hollow Valley, to perform our wedding? How did you pull that off?" I couldn't believe it. My future husband had somehow gotten a sentient dinosaur, the god of the land whom nobody had actually ever seen, to perform our wedding.
Corg smiled sheepishly at me. "Trade secret, my love. I'll tell you on our honeymoon."
The ceremony went on as planned. Ka performed the ceremony in his "monster language", which Corg and I were already familiar with so we had no problem there. When the ceremony was finalized, Corg and I kissed each other for the better part of two minutes before we decided that we'd better stop so that the food wouldn't get cold. After the ceremony, Ka went away and the festivities soon began. At the beginning of the reception, Corg and I stood near the cake, while we greeted the main guests of honor. The green-skinned, large clawed troll chieftain and his wife came to pay their respects (which incidentally, consisted of them placing their claws on our arms and shaking us violently), followed by the winged, rocky-hided gargoyles (which thankfully was just them tapping us with their wings). The beastman and minotaur leaders also came and hugged both Corg and I. They were followed by the Azcan shaman and his wife, who greeted us kindly. The leaders of the Palman and Alisian settlements came to give Corg a hug and kiss me on the cheek. There's not much time and space at this point for much introspection; there's so much going on and so many people to talk to you that you just take things in stride and smile and say peppy things and hug people and thank the guests for being present. It eventually gets a bit mechanical, to be perfectly honest.
After greeting all the guests, Corg and I went to the table where Piotr, Jack, Sari, and Laya were sitting. Oh dear, I haven't even mentioned what Sari and Laya were wearing. We ate and drank and commented on the ceremony. We reminisced about times past, about other weddings we had been to over the years. I spoke of Rhys and Maia's wedding and Sari spoke a bit mournfully of Ayn's wedding, although more because she missed him and Thea than because he didn't choose her back in the day. After about an hour, Corg got up and took Piotr and Jack over to the tables where the Lizard Men and Troglodytes sat. As I got bombarded with more advice from Sari and Laya about how to make my honeymoon especially memorable, I watched Corg from afar. I saw him telling jokes and funny stories to the Trogs and Lizard Men, and watched as his guests just laughed and ate up all of his comments. I smiled to myself as I saw my husband, a complicated man, equally reserved and outgoing, showing himself to be the personable leader that the races had come to love these past fifty years.
We arrived in Purapril, well, on the beach near it, sometime early in the morning. Corg was a bit confused as to where exactly we were when we arrived, but he soon figured it out. I chided him a bit since he chose that moment to inform me that the continent we were in was called "Monster World", since that made me think that we'd have to do a bit of fighting. He assured me we wouldn't, and that even if we had to, there was nothing but a few wild animals that would give us any trouble.
"I mean, there are a few large crabs and coconut throwing monkeys, but that's nothing compared to the likes of what we've fought, right? Right?"
We made our way up a hill and spotted a small, quaint cottage on the other side near a small forest. It looked like the perfect place for us to rest. We hurried down the hill to take a look at the place. As we arrived at the door, we saw it open and a young, blue-haired boy of about 16 come out of the door.
"Hello," I said cheerfully. Corg also greeted him, rather excitedly at that.
"Good morning, strangers. Where do you hail from?" the boy asked curiously.
"We just got married and we're looking for a place to stay for our honeymoon," I said, smiling.
The boy smiled. "Why don't you stay at my house. I'm off on a quest and I probably won't be back for a few months."
"Oh really?" I asked, feeling happy inside. "That would be wonderful."
"Well, my friend—" my husband began.
"Shion. The name's Shion."
"Well, my friend Shion. If you're going on a quest, you'll probably need to be some good armor, boots, a shield, a sword, etc. Here, let this be a payment for the cottage and a bit of help on your quest." Corg reached into his pouch and pulled out a bag of money containing about three-hundred gold pieces.
Shion's eyes widened in sheer joy as received the money bag in his hands and started shaking it close to his ear. "Gee, thanks guys. This will help me a lot. Well, I got to get going. Make yourself at home and enjoy your honeymoon!"
Shion wandered off toward the hill and was soon out of site.
"What a nice kid!" I said happily.
Corg grinned at me. "Shion's the official hero of this world. I'll tell you his story a little later. Come, let's go inside and unpack our things.
I smiled and nodded. We entered the humble little cottage and started unpacking. Shion had a couple of unused chairs, so we resolved to set our changes of clothes on top of them instead of emptying the boy's small dresser and putting our own things in. As Corg continued unpacking and looking for places to put some our things, I took a look at the boy's pantry. He had some food in it: a few cans of vegetables, a small tin full of cookies, and a small jar with some salted beef in it. It was obvious that we'd have to get some food for ourselves during our stay. Corg said that the beach was teaming with crab and there was a village about a day's journey away that had some awesome mushrooms.
As Corg put our things away, he started telling me a little bit about the place. He mentioned that generations ago, the land's "resident hero" was a fellow named Hu-Man, a green-haired boy who went on a long quest to rid the country of monsters a destroy the dragon that controlled them. He discovered that the dragon was actually a robot and, upon destroying the dragon, Hu-Man became a victim of a curse that transformed him into a lizard. He then went on another mission to rid Monster World of the numerous dragons that inhabited the land, transforming into a different animal upon destroying each dragon. He finally transformed into a hawk and flew to a castle in the sky where he fought against the dreaded Vampire Dragon and acquired an artifact called the Salamander Cross, which allowed him to revert to his original form. Corg laughed and said that if he strutted around with his animal limbs exposed, people might think he was the reincarnation of Hu-Man. Corg told me that he felt that Shion, the young fellow who loaned us his cottage, was probably a descendent of Hu-Man.
I listened carefully to Corg's story; he always had such interesting stories to tell and had a very vivid imagination. During his story, I dusted off the tables and chairs, nodding and saying "uh-huh" as Corg spoke, just to reassure him that I was listening. When we got done with our respective chores, Corg stepped up behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist. I reached back and stroked his face a little.
"Well, today is the first day of our new life together. How do you feel about it, Queen Mieu?"
Those words rang in my ears and registered in my memory bank. "Queen" Mieu. I meditated on those words for a moment. "I never thought I'd ever be a queen." I giggled a little. "I always thought I'd be a cyborg bodyguard for the Landen family for the rest of my days. But thanks to you, you've given me something more fulfilling."
"It's you who needs to be thanked for—"
"Oh, here we go again with the thanking contest," I said, putting my hand to my mouth to hold back my laughter. "Why don't you just wrap your arms around me and kiss me? It's better than the pointless debate of who needs to thank who."
My husband lifted up an eyebrow. "I think I'll take you up on that."
It was night. Corg and I lay in bed together. I looked at him for a few moments. She seemed to peaceful in his sleep. We had had a long day and Corg was more than tuckered out after all of the festivities, the sleepless nights before the wedding, and, well, the events of our first afternoon alone together after our marriage. I decided that I needed to rest as well, so I set my systems to go into sleep mode, only to wake up in eight hours or under mild stimuli, such as someone shaking me. My visual screens went dark and I drifted off into sleep.
According to my systems, I had been asleep for three hours when something woke me up. I felt my husband push-up against me. At first I thought it was just him changing positions in the admittedly small bed. I closed my eyes again and prepared to return to my slumber when I heard him groan and push up against me again. I opened my eyes and saw that Corg was sleeping uneasily. He twisted and turned, groaning and mumbling something that I couldn't make out. I reached out and tried to shake him a little calling him by name. He didn't seem to notice.
His turning soon turned to a nervous thrashing and his groaning got louder. I sat up and tried to wake him up, shaking his arm and pleading with him to wake up. For a few moments, this continued until he suddenly sprang up and yelled.
"Corg? Are you alright" I spoke with a hushed tone. He didn't respond.
Corg soon broke into a sob. My night vision saw tears rolling down his eyes. I instinctively grabbed his head and pulled it against my breasts. For several minutes, I stroked his hair and cheek, quietly repeating the words "It's okay" and "I'm here" as he cried into my bosom. I doubt that he was even aware of what was happening at the moment. He must've had a horrible nightmare. I felt his hand squeeze my thigh tightly, as if out of fear.
Ten minutes passed before his crying stopped and his breathing started returning to normal. His head soon slunk down into my lap and soon he was sleeping again. My bio-sensors showed abnormal cerebral activity during the whole episode, but soon the activity began to decrease to a normal reading for a sleeping person. His breathing gradually seemed to be less nervous and his heart rate soon returned normal. I continued you caressing his cheek and running my fingers through his hair, whispering that "everything would be okay." Gradually, his grip on my thigh loosened and soon he was sleeping like a baby.
I stayed awake, cradling his head in my arms and wondering what could've caused such an odd outburst. After all, Corg was usually such a happy-go-lucky person and, even when he wanted to be by himself, he was never less than pleasant. I wondered what sort of nightmare he could have had. Surely a person who had gone to battle and faced death as much as Corg had could stand up to any nightmare. But then, I wasn't accustomed to having dreams so maybe not.
I reflected for a few moments on my husband's life. I then remembered when I first met him in the Hollow Valley. He had arrived in that place alone and scared in the wake of a large-scale massacre of the valley's previous human inhabitants. For two weeks he lived in hiding, isolated, hungry, miserable, and in constant fear of being caught. He told me once of the disgust he felt at killing a beastman who had found his hideout, and then watching it rot and molder before his eyes over the course of several days.
My thoughts were then transported to our big battle with the Burrower in the dreaded Immortal Cavern. More than the mental horrors we faced on the way in was that image of the Burrower coming this close to killing Corg and swallowing his soul. It was only through Wren's sacrifice that Corg was saved, but the thought of what might have befallen him may have been (and may still be) a constant source of horror to him.
Finally, I pondered Corg's actual death fifty years ago at the hands of Zaphirah. While that was probably a painless experience, I remembered that he had spent several months in what could best be described as Hell. He must have suffered misery and hopelessness on a magnitude that few people ever did and lived to tell the tale. I understood a bit of the horror he must have felt in that God-forsaken realm; as I too had felt the awful undercurrent of hopelessness and solitude as I made my journey down there to rescue Corg.
It became clear to me that my dear husband was still haunted by the demons of his past. Why he hadn't resolved them earlier, I cannot say. Maybe he tried to forget and ignore them, but was just not able to. Maybe Christy wasn't able to comprehend what exactly he had been through during these moments and wasn't able to guide him to safety, so to speak. Maybe these demons would follow him until the end of his life. I don't know. But I do know one thing: He will not have to suffer alone anymore. I too know of solitude and hopelessness. I too have tread the path that Corg has tread, at least to a degree that I can understand him. I may have retired my claws, but I shall still go to battle for my Corg. And it is a battle that is truly worth the effort.