The velvet moon glowed purple in the sky above as it hung silently in the young night. The quiet twinkle of white stars was clearer here in the eternal winter landscape than anywhere else except Dahlia itself. High above the frozen lake, the floating city continued its endless waiting, holding its breath on the cusp of the millennia.
In the gentle moonlight, a hand took pen and paper, smoothly writing a name in elegant cursive before folding the paper in half. The paper was gently placed in the middle of a circle, a candle flanking it on either side. There was a pause as the figure paused, seemingly embarrassed before a voice rang out. A clear feminine voice quietly chanted, "Oh holy Laya, bring me a lover, let him be faithful and true, let him love me for who I am, and let me love him for who he is."
Once again, she hesitated before she quietly struck flint against steel, lighting a candle of softest pink before she whispered, "Let the first feelings of love strike me and him, let our love be one of friendship and romance."
She did not hesitate before she lit the red candle and murmured, "Let our relationship be strong, and grant us the courage to trust each other and to be ourselves, and to help each other overcome whatever crises may befall us."
The figure gently picked up the paper, kissing it softly before she lightly sprayed it with perfume. The scent of fresa filled the air as she gently put it inside an ancient locket she had received from her aunt. It was cunningly crafted to have two spaces to hold things instead of the usual one, and the paper joined the petals of a red flower already within. Her eyes closed, the young lady imagined being happy and safe in her lover's arms and whispered, "Let this love be sweet like these flower petals, but let it be endure as long as this family treasure."
A long silence reigned as the candles slowly burned before Kara finally said, "I can't believe I just did that."
The moon princess felt monumentally silly as she considered what she had done. She had never thought she'd resort to casting the "spell" her mother said all teenage girls in Shusoran learned in the first blush of womanhood. She'd spent enough time in Gwyn's company to know what true magic was. It wasn't Kara's fault that Adan turned her wits to mush. It shouldn't be, anyway.
Kara curled up against the massive window of her quarters on Skyhaven. The glass did nothing to keep out the chill as the Frigidian winds howled around the ancient marvel. She tried to think on what they had learned in the Historian Village. The emphasis was on try, since thoughts of Adan kept invading her head.
The people of New Mota had guarded many secrets for a thousand years. Kara had already known that the Alisa III carried the descendants of the people of Palma, a planet lost to history. She had not known the name of the sun that had once warmed Palma. Algo, the star haunted every thousand years by the god of destruction known only as Dark Force. Adan's ancestor Orakio Sa Riik had discovered the plan to destroy Palma and had taken charge of the preparations to escape.
Adan again. She sighed as she tried to focus. An armada of four hundred worldships had escaped the calamity that destroyed the Palman homeworld, where it promptly split into factions. Orakio led the group that decided to set off into space to find a new homeworld.
The Reverent Lutz, the undying archmage who commanded the Espers of Algo, had sent the first Laya with a group of Espers to secretly join Orakio's fleet, afraid that Dark Force might choose to follow the last heirs of Palma. Lutz had prayed that at least this group had at last escaped from the clutches of the undying master of evil. But his hope proved misplaced.
Dark Force managed to slip aboard a ship. Ship by ship was destroyed as the dark god sowed destruction at an accelerated pace, turning the fleet against each other even as it incited them to horrific ferocity. It even managed to manipulate Laya against Orakio, sparking the ancient Devastation War. Eventually, the two ancients learned they had been duped, and set out to seal Dark Force away even as they cut their followers off from each other to forcibly contain the flames of war.
Are the flames of war as confusing as the flames of love? Kara asked herself morosely as she absentmindedly played with her locket. Intellectually, she knew she was not being rational. She was the one who had acted, she was the one who had changed everything. Potentially. It wasn't rational to be angry at Adan. She did not have a right to be angry at him. But she was, and lacking that right made it worse. Stupid feelings.
It wasn't supposed to have gone like this. She was a princess. She was supposed to have spent more time with Adan, getting to know him better while she slowly but surely entwined herself firmly in all of his thoughts. She was supposed to fall in love with her prince gently, so softly that she would never be able to tell until she one day woke up and realized it. He was supposed to fall in love with her over the same time, and just like a fairy tale, kiss her first, as a prince was supposed to do.
Instead, at the age of seven, she'd had her heart stolen by a proud boy who kept his feelings hidden and had eyes that drank her soul. She had ended up kissing that boy in front of hundreds of half-civilized wildlings while loudly proclaiming he belonged to her, like some peasant girl in a cat fight. And it was all his fault for letting that lavender-haired trollop try to claim him. Stupid boy. And stupid her too.
Gwyn had yelled at her. Kara had very rarely been yelled at before. She'd been a good girl all of her life, rarely scolded by either her mother or her Aunt Alair. It had been all she could do to avoid bursting into tears as Gwyn had torn into her. It had been a long time since the moon princess had been at the receiving end of Gwyn's temper, but Laya's heiress always ran out of steam. Eventually.
Once Gwyn had finished, Kara quickly found herself wishing her coeval had not. The moon princess found herself submitted to questioning so intense that a Dragon Knight would have begged for mercy. It had not taken long for Kara to feel wrung dry, but the Landenian princess had a way of digging even deeper, getting out thoughts you had not even realized you had. Who would have thought Gwyn's insouciant grin concealed the techniques of a seasoned and ruthless interrogator?
She had avoided both the royal twins to the best of her ability in New Mota, spending most of her time arguing with the historians, but alas, that reprieve ended when Gwyn had dragged her out of a library and back into Wren's cramped cargo hold, where she was forced to be aware of every last one of Adan's movements as her heart beat erratically and she tried to pretend nothing had changed. Their arrival in Skyhaven had done little to reassure her.
"The ultimate evil dwells on a floating city in the barren waste lands of the dome named Terminus," one of the old sages said.
"A word of ultimate power has been lost for ages. This name can empower the weapons of legend," said another. "We long ago mastered the ritual to empower the weapons, but without the word and the legends, we can do nothing."
"To discover the lost name, you must first find all five weapons of ancient legend," said the first.
"For a weapon to be legendary, it must have a history of greatness. The ancient heroes used the legendary weapons. Orakio's sword, Miun's claw, Siren's shot, Laya's bow, and Lune's slicer," said a third.
"Long ago, Laya foretold that the name of power could be learned on Sage Isle, in Aquatica. We know not where the weapons rest, but they continue to exist. Even if they exist at the bottom of the sea, you must find them," the second said, ending the audience.
Kara sighed. They had two of the ancient weapons, heirlooms of the royal twins' aunt and her father. Mieu had said, with great sorrow, that she knew where to find Miun's claw. That only left Orakio's legendary black sword and Siren's shot.
Orakio's sword. Kara curled up tighter against herself. A weapon with a legend that even Layans spoke of in awe. Even in these days of relative peace, the black sword was used to scare Layan children. A blade blacker than midnight, that had defied the great Laya's magic. A sword that supposedly could never break, that inflicted wounds that were always fatal.
At least that last part wasn't completely true. Her father had shown her a scar from that fearsome blade, one that had cut him open from hip to shoulder. Only Laya's superior healing magic had saved him.
Adan was Orakio's descendant. He was also the ancient Laya's nephew. He had the most noble bloodline on the ship. He was the heir to Orakio's sword and easily one of the strongest warriors on the Alisa III. He was on a quest to save the world. It was wisest to just abandon all hope of having him. Why should he care about a silly princess whose father had once tried to kill his ancestor...and his parents as well? Why should he care about a bookworm who did not like to fight and thought the funnest thing in the world was to be surrounded by books, writing about things lost in the past? Why should-
There was a knock on the door. That was probably Gwyn, determined to squeeze her for more information. Skyhaven was large enough that they were not forced to share rooms. Kara had been counting on that to avoid Gwyn's interrogations, but the huntress had apparently come for her.
Kara stayed quiet. If she did not say anything, her hot-headed coeval would likely think she was out, and leave her alone. There was a brief silence before the knocking resumed. Typical. Gwyn was too smart to fall for a ruse as simple as playing dead.
She looked down at herself. Her golden nightgown was made of lustrous fabric that was soft to the touch and intricately embroidered with red flowers and green leaves. The neckline reached to her breastbone, with just enough slack to pull it forward and drop her locket in. It hung just tight enough to hint at her body's curves, but not so much that it made her look improper. It was a beautiful piece she would have loved to have shown off to Adan, but she was a princess and would never do something so...shameless. Unlike that trollop Sumire.
Shoving all thoughts of the lavender-haired harpy out of her head, Kara confirmed to herself that she was decent. But she did not want to abandon the window with its wonderful view of her home of Dahlia. The moon was a comfort, a permanent force in a world that seemed to be going mad. "Enter," she called out as a third round of knocking assailed her door. She instantly found herself ruing her earlier wish regarding her dress.
Adan entered her room, comfortably dressed in his black tunic and pants, his hands behind his back. As much as she hated to agree with the Kensai girl on anything, he truly was the most beautiful man on Alisa III. His hair, the same dark gold as his sister's, was cut in the typical short style of an Orakian knight. On his forehead he wore the tikal, the red gem that marked the Laya and her heiress. His jaw was strong, his face a distinctly masculine version of Gwyn's exquisite allure.
But like his mother and sister, his physical beauty faded to nothing compared to the magic of his eyes. It was his eyes that left women weak at the knees. They were windows into an otherworld, a bottomless nightscape of indigo, shining with mystery, pride, and strength, a mighty will that did not bend, a personal power that intoxicated.
Unlike other women, these were not the things that had captured Kara's heart. No, what had made a child-scholar all of seven years old fall in love with a proud little prince was his courage in protecting a princess from Orakian bullies who had meant to hurt her, and from assassins who had meant to kill her. "I will protect you," he had told her, his back to her, his enemies so much larger than he and armed with knives when he had nothing.
Now they were all grown up and she was likely to lose him because she just did not know what went on inside that mind of his.
An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, the same silence that had existed between them ever since she had kissed him in front of the gathered Kensai horde. Her fault, since she had kept rebuffing every attempt he made to talk to her. She wasn't sure she had the courage to talk to him now.
Even as she prepared to kick him out, her mind frantically assessing just how decent her nightgown was, he cleared his throat. "I have a present for you."
Adan quickly crossed the distance between them before she could object. He held out to her what had been behind his back before. A book. She hesitantly reached for the book and brought it into the moonlight to take a good look at the cover.
"The Last Clash by Hue Zinga?" she said aloud, puzzled. She opened to the first page and began reading it in the dimness, and soon found herself delighted to discover that it was a New Mota history of the Champions' War. A Layan version of events that was not written by sycophants in Elysium! A treasure!
"It was something I knew you were interested in, so when I saw it, I bought it for you," Adan volunteered before she could ask.
Adan really had listened to her when she talked about her projects! He had and had gotten something for her because he knew she liked it! She bounded to her feet and hugged him. "Thank you! Thank you so much!"
It was only supposed to be a brief hug, but Kara found herself lingering in his arms. She did not want to give him up. She wanted him all for herself. But he really did not have a reason to want that. He had every reason to just push her away and walk out, breaking her heart. She was just some girl he happened to meet as a child, who now happened to be some teenager sent along to help him save the world. It was the truth. How could she have expected anything more?
Instead, after an eternity in happiness, she heard him ask, "Do you want to kiss?"
She froze. Her mind could not believe what her ears were telling her. "W-what did you say?"
"I said, 'Do you want to kiss?'"
Her cheeks felt like they were on fire. "You're not supposed to ask a princess if she wants to kiss! It's not prop—"
When her prince's lips caught hers, it was all she could do to stop herself from melting as all thought was driven out of her head.