Chapter Eight

As soon as Lena realized where her captor was taking her, she stopped dead in her tracks. Lyle, who had been looking down for a moment, almost ran right into her. "No," Lena said firmly, shaking her head. "No. I'm not going in there."

Lyle stepped in front of her. "Come on, Lena." As he passed by her side, he took her wrist to lead her along, but his task was made difficult by the fact that Lena dug her heels into the grass and fought him all the way.

"No!" the Princess of Satera cried. "I will not go into that place!"

As Lena continued to fight, it was harder for him to drag her along. This started to wear on his patience. "You don't even know what it is," Lyle shot back through gritted teeth. "You've never been this far east."

"Maybe," Lena conceded, "but I sure know what that is. I've seen it in books, and by Orakio, I am not stepping a foot into any palace devoted to the worship of Laya!"

Lyle stopped and let out a deep breath. Behind him, Lena stopped, as well, and folded her arms across her chest defiantly. He had assumed dragon-shape and carried her across Landen to the foot of the western mountains, where Laya's Palace -- and the gateway back to Aquatica -- waited. Fatigued, Lyle knew that after the trip through the gateway he would have to carry Lena again in flight to Shusoran. Therefore, he was not anxious to fight with her about walking into Laya's Palace.

Maybe if I hadn't been so stupid back there on the island, I'd still have the Sapphire, he thought, and then this whole dispute could have been avoided. Thinking of the Sapphire made Lyle gaze across the valley at the mountains north of where he now stood; specifically, he eyed the entrance to the Landen/Aquatica cavern. But I don't have the Sapphire. Rhys does. And if I don't get back home soon, we won't have time to prepare.

"Lena," Lyle said in a quiet tone, turning around to face her. "I promise you, there is no danger in stepping into Laya's Palace."

"Not to you, maybe," she fired back. "But I'm sure you'd be real anxious to step into a church devoted to Orakio, now wouldn't you?"

"Contrary to what you believe," Lyle began, knowing full well that no matter what he said, he wasn't going to convince her to go against sixteen years worth of religious teaching, "Laya is not some sort of demon. She was a person, just like Orakio was."

That produced a sharp look from Lena. "Don't ever compare Orakio to Laya, dragon-man."

Lyle threw his hands up in exasperation. "I don't have time for this," he muttered under his breath.

Lena was ready with a solution. "Then take me back to Satera."

This time it was Lyle's turn to give Lena a look. "All right, Lena, listen to me," he began quietly. "We are going to step inside the palace, whether you want to or not. However, I do not wish to fight with you, so I will ask that you cooperate with me and enter willingly." Leaning forward, Lyle then placed his hands on Lena's shoulders, making the princess blink in surprise. "I give you my word that you will not be harmed in any way."

It had no effect. Lena's stance was unchanged, and she communicated this to Lyle with a sentence in which she spoke every word individually. "I. Am. Not. Stepping. A Foot. Inside. That. Pa--"

"I didn't harm Rhys, did I?" Lyle demanded as his hands dropped from her shoulders. As he spoke, his voice gradually took on a louder tone. "I'm taking you with me because I'm trying to prevent Rhys from reaching my homeland, and you can give him critical information that would help him in that task. I could have easily accomplished my goal back on the island. After earning Rhys's trust, I could have slit his throat with your own knife, Lena--" He pointed to where it was still tucked into his belt. "--before he even knew something was wrong. But I didn't, did I? Because I gave you my word that if you lived up to your end of the bargain and did not make a noise, I would not harm a hair on Rhys's head."

The Prince of Shusoran took a breath and then continued, softer this time. "Now, I give you my word again, Lena. If you will just step into Laya's Palace with me, I promise you will not be harmed."

As he finished, he extended a hand towards Lena, palm up. She stared at the hand for a long moment, then looked up to his face, where she saw that he no longer wore his usual arrogant lopsided grin, but a look of sincerity and honesty. He doesn't exactly look like your average kidnapper, she found herself thinking. Right now, at least, he almost looks... friendly.

"All right," she said at last, taking the offered hand into her own. Lyle turned to lead the way towards the palace, but before he could, Lena issued an ultimatum. "But I'm going to pray while we're in there."

Lyle turned back around to look at her. For a moment, Lena thought all of the -- well, maybe she wouldn't go so far as to say kindness, but kind-like traits sounded good -- kind-like traits she had seen in Lyle a moment before were gone, and the cold, hostile criminal who had kidnapped Maia and stolen the Sapphire was back. Then, however, the green-haired prince cracked a smile.

A moment later, he was chuckling as he led Lena towards Laya's Palace. "Very well, Lena. You can pray all you'd like."

- - - - - - - - - -

Hours later, Prince Rhys and his android companion Mieu arrived in the same valley. Their destination, however, was opposite the temple Prince Lyle had taken Princess Lena into. "There's the cave," Mieu said, pointing as she said it and hoping that Rhys would not spot the temple across the valley. Explaining the machinery inside the "cave" would be hard enough; she did not want to explain--

"What's that?" Rhys suddenly shouted, slightly alarmed, as his forward march came to a dead stop. He had spotted the majestic-looking white marble temple.

"That," Mieu began slowly, "is a place we should not go into, Prince. Please, follow me."

"What is it, Mieu?" Rhys asked over his shoulder. He was already headed directly for the temple. "I've never been this far east."

"It--" Mieu started, stopped, then sighed. "That temple is called Laya's Palace."

Rhys's forward movement ceased. He spun on his heels and stared at Mieu. "Laya's Palace," he repeated. Mieu could tell he was angry. "And you weren't even going to tell me about it?"

"Rhys, wait!" Mieu called as the Prince stormed up the side of the hill towards the palace. "I will explain everything, if you'll just follow me into the cave!" But he would hear none of it. He was heading into Laya's Palace, and there was nothing she could do to stop him.

- - - - - - - - - -

The Prince of Landen was now only a few feet from the entrance to the place Mieu had called "Laya's Palace." The structure was at least four, perhaps five, stories high, though it appeared to Rhys that there was only one actual floor with a towering ceiling. Helping him in this estimate was the fact that there was a double doorway into the palace, but no actual doors, allowing him to see right inside. One had to walk past several lofty marble pillars before reaching the actual doorway, and so Rhys guessed it was the fact that the doorway was somewhat indented into the building that explained the lack of doors.

"Rhys," Mieu spoke his name from behind him. Her android speed was remarkable for her to have caught up with him so quickly, and her stealth was exemplary, as well: he hadn't known she was there until just now. However, before she could say anything more, Rhys held up a hand, ordering her silent. Once he was inside, then he would begin asking her questions again. For now, he didn't want to hear her asking him not to enter the palace.

Stepping inside, Rhys found he was right -- the palace had only one floor, and the ceiling towered five stories above him. More marble pillars lined each wall, creating very shadowy places in the small area behind the rows of pillars, where the sunlight could not reach. And speaking of sunlight, that seemed to be the only way the room was illuminated -- perhaps that was another reason for the lack of doors.

Wait, Rhys told himself. There is a light source in here. That's when Rhys noticed the shimmering yellow glow coming from the end of the far temple. Around the same time, he noticed the mild humming noise which emanated from the same place.

Slowly, with careful steps, he began walking towards the source of the glow and the humming. "Tell me what you know, Mieu," Rhys spoke at last. "What do the Layans do here in their palace?"

"That would be..." The android seemed to be searching for the right words. "...rather difficult to explain right now, Prince. Though," she quickly added, "I promise to explain all in due time."

"Are we in danger in here?" Rhys asked. He was getting closer to the yellow glow, which he now saw came from the floor. "I mean, do the Layans consider this place sacred, and will they try to kill us for being here?"

"Possibly," Mieu said, "but I do not believe there are any Layans around here."

Finally, he got to the point. "Could this have been where they took Maia?"

He didn't see it, but behind him, Mieu nodded. "Yes, that's very possible," Mieu agreed. "In fact, I'd say it's probable."

Angered, Rhys spun on his heels and faced Mieu. "And yet you didn't want me to come in here?" he roared. "Explain yourself!"

"I will, Prince," she answered, staring Rhys in the eye and never flinching in the face of his anger. "I will. But you must follow me into the cave across the valley first."

"What's this?" Rhys asked, motioning with his head towards the large section of the floor which was glowing yellow. "Is this how they pray to Laya?"

"No, it's not like that at all," Mieu answered. "If you'll-- Rhys!"

Just as she yelled his name, he had stepped onto the glowing field of yellow. At that moment, he felt a slight tingle surge through his body, and then, there was suddenly a booming, thunderous voice coming from all around them -- in front of them, behind them, from the shadows behind the pillars, from the yellow energy itself -- and Rhys found himself instinctively recoiling in fear.

"Only Layans belong in Laya's Palace! Begone!"

After recovering from the shock, Rhys drew his short sword, took three quick steps back away from the yellow energy field, and searched all around the palace for the source of the booming voice, his eyes wide with shock. A quick glance at Mieu, however, and he saw she was not stunned at all. In fact, she was holding up her arms to him, and her lips looked like they were saying, "Calm down, Rhys!" though with his ears still ringing from the thunderous voice, he couldn't be for sure.

"What was that?" he asked Mieu. "Mieu, what in Orakio's name was that?"

"I'll tell you--"

"What?" he yelled out. "I can't hear you!"

"I'll tell you everything," Mieu shouted back to him. Rhys noticed that she did not take in more air before shouting, but instead, somehow simply "turned up the volume" on her voice. "Just come with me across the valley, okay?"

Rhys nodded absently, still searching the palace with his eyes for the source of the voice. Within moments, however, he was outside of the palace, and following Mieu across the valley. By the time they reached the cave on the other side, his ears had finally stopped ringing.

They stepped into the cave, the light on Mieu's shoulder rising into place and illuminating their path. Rhys took a few cautious steps, ducked under a stalagtite, and then, suddenly, the way before them was blocked by a wall of fallen rocks. "No," he grunted. "How are we supposed to get by this?"

"The Sapphire is the key into this cave, remember?" Mieu reminded him. She extended her hand and Rhys removed the gem from his belt buckle and gave it to her. Stepping to the side of the fallen rocks, Mieu raised the gem towards a crack in the side of the cave. Amazingly -- in fact, almost miraculously -- it was a perfect fit.

Rhys was staring at the gem in amazement when he noticed Mieu was staring at him with an odd look on her face, as if she wasn't sure what to do next. "Mieu?" he finally asked. "Mieu, are you all right?"

The android nodded. "Yes, Rhys, I'm fine. But I just want you to know... What you're about to see will be unlike anything you've ever seen before in your life. In all honesty, it will change the very way you look at the world."

"Mieu," he chuckled, "I've seen caves before."

In response, Mieu shook her head. "Not like this one, you haven't." Then, she placed her hand on the Sapphire, still imbedded into the wall, and twisted it 90 degrees.

The wall of fallen rocks before them shimmered once and then vanished altogether.

Again, Rhys's sword was out of its sheath in an instant. "What kind of Laya's sorcery is this?" he demanded. That's when he noticed that just past where the rocks had been a moment before, there was a stairway leading downward.

Mieu rotated the Sapphire back to its original position and then pulled it from the wall. Then, she walked in front of him and entered the foyer which housed the stairway. "Come on," she motioned him inside. "It's okay, Rhys."

When he stepped inside and glanced down the stairs, he saw... metal... at the bottom of the stairway. "Told you you'd never seen a cave like this one," Mieu smiled. Then, she placed the Sapphire into another crack in the wall, twisted, and then the wall of fallen rocks was back.

"What is this place, Mieu?" Rhys asked softly.

"This is the transport tunnel that me and Orakio and the others used to use to get between Landen and Aquatica."

"What's Aquatica?"

Mieu sighed. "Aquatica is another world, Rhys. There are several Layan towns in Aquatica, Rhys, and I would be willing to bet that Maia is being held in one of them."

"Another... another world?" Rhys repeated in amazement. "Another world besides Landen?"

"Yes," Mieu nodded. "The passageways between the worlds were sealed 1,000 years ago during the Devastation War. That is why Landen is all you know. But Landen is not the whole world, Rhys. The whole world is actually made up of Landen and six other worlds like it, including Aquatica." As well as the entire universe outside this spaceship, but we don't have to get into that right now, do we?

"Wait," Rhys said, glancing down into landing at the bottom of the stairway but still refusing to go down. "You said, back at Laya's Palace, that Maia's kidnappers probably went through there."

"That's right," Mieu nodded. "I didn't want to tell you until we got here, but Laya's Palace is another way into Aquatica. Long ago, those palaces weren't there, and in their place were simple buildings to which anyone could go to instantly travel to one of the other worlds."

"Praise Orakio..." Rhys whispered in awe.

"However, during the Devastation War, Laya's forces took control of all of the..." She paused. "...the teleport stations, as they were called, and built palaces in their place. Then, they--"

Reprogrammed the Alisa III's computer to only allow Layan DNA patterns access to teleport?

"--they cast some sort of spell, making it so that only Layans could use the palaces as a means of transport."

Rhys closed his eyes and looked downward. To Mieu, it almost looked as if he were about to faint. True, he was taking things much better than she had thought he might, but still... "Rhys," she said, placing a hand on his shoulder, "I'm sorry if I angered you back there, but as you can see, we can still get to the place where Maia is probably being held. We can still get to Aquatica."

He opened his eyes and met hers. "Through that... down there?" he motioned with his head.

"That's right," Mieu nodded. Then, she smiled. "So, are you looking at the world a little bit differently now?"

Rhys chuckled. "Yes," he agreed. "Definitely. But, I can worry about all these new worlds later. Right now," he placed his sword back in its sheath, "all I care about is Maia. Will you lead the way?"

"I'd be happy to," she grinned. She stepped down the stairs into the maintenance tunnel connecting the bio-spheres Landen and Aquatica, with Prince Rhys of Landen right behind her.

- - - - - - - - - -

For the first time in her life, Princess Lena stood in a room full of castle servants who would not obey her every word. Also for the first time in her life, Lena was the only Orakian in a room full of almost fifty people -- Layans. Needless to say, she was not at all comfortable.

She gazed out at the guards who had been assembled in the throne room of Castle Shusoran. All of them looked at her with suspicion and, in many cases, outright hatred. Meanwhile, they all gazed upon the man who stood next to her, Prince Lyle, with confusion and, in a handful of cases, flat-out dislike... at least for the orders he was currently giving them.

He had introduced her to all of the assembled guards, and then he went on. "I must again leave Shusoran on very important business, but I will be leaving Lena here." At those words, Lena gulped and then swung her eyes around to find Lyle. He caught the fearful expression on her face, nodded slightly, and then continued to the guards. "Now I am about to give you very specific orders as to how Princess Lena of Satera is to be treated in my absence. First of all, she will not be locked in the dungeon. She shall be assigned to the guest suite across the hall from my own quarters."

A rumble of surprise swept across the guards, which Lyle quickly quieted. "Secondly," he called out in a loud voice. After the guards died down, he continued. "Secondly, though Lena will be confined to the guest suite, I want two guards posted outside her door at all times, and if she opens the door and makes a request of you, you are to fulfill it. Do anything she asks, short of allowing her to leave her room. Is that understood?"

None of the assembled guards understood the orders, but most of them accepted them without question. Most, but not all. "No, it's not," called out one guard near the front of the crowd. "When we catch Orakians, we lock them in the dungeon. I wonder, is your father aware of these demands you make of us, Prince Lyle?" At these insubordinate words, most of the guards remained hushed, though a brave few nodded their heads in agreement.

"While the king is away, I rule Shusoran," Lyle said, avoiding the question. "You know that as well as I do, Telir. And when I return, if I learn that anyone -- guard, soldier, or servant -- has violated my orders, I shall personally remind that person or persons that I am the dragon knight, is that understood?"

With that, Telir and the handful of others who questioned Lyle's order were silenced. Keeping his ice-filled eyes on the assembled guards to let them know he meant business, Lyle then extended his hand to Lena, who took it and followed him from the throne room through a side door. After closing it behind him, they were alone in one of Castle Shusoran's passageways.

"Lyle, please don't leave me here," Lena pleaded. "I... I'm scared. I'm so scared."

"Don't let Telir frighten you, Lena," Lyle replied. "He thinks I'm too young to be in charge while my father is away, and he's all too eager to take over for me. But in the end, he wouldn't dare move against me."

"Well, what if your father returns?" Lena asked. "He could overrule your orders and have me thrown into the dungeon, or... or executed."

Lyle stopped walking and turned to face Lena, placing his hands on her shoulders. "First of all, my father is on a pilgrimage to Laya's old kingdom, Mystoke in Frigidia. It is very far away, and I doubt he has even arrived yet. I assure you, he will not return. Second of all..." His voice drifted away. When he finally found the words he was searching for, he spoke in a quiet tone.

"Though we started off as enemies, and despite the fact that for all intents and purposes you are still my prisoner, I none the less consider you a friend, Lena," Lyle revealed. "You have taught me that at least some Orakians are not all that bad. However, I still have work to do. I can not allow Rhys to find my cousin Maia."

"But you just said you've learned not all Orakians are bad!" Lena shouted. "And since you don't even know Rhys, how do you know--"

"Marriage is an entirely different thing," Lyle interrupted harshly. "Yes, you may be my friend, Lena, but I will not allow my cousin to marry an Orakian. It's that simple!" Taking a deep breath, he collected himself and returned to his softer tone, then he began walking up a nearby staircase, with Lena in tow. "I also have to travel to Aridia and fix the weather control systems. My world is not supposed to be the ice-covered land you saw on your way here. It is supposed to be as green as Landen."

"What happened?"

Lyle shrugged. "We're not sure. At first, we perhaps thought it was some sort of Orakian plot to keep us from finding Maia--"

Lena cut him off with her laughter. "Lyle, right now, I'm the only person from Landen to even know of Aquatica. I assure you we didn't break the weather... whatever you called them."

"The weather control systems in Aridia," Lyle repeated. "I know, I understand that now." They arrived at a doorway, which Lyle opened for Lena before following her through into a long hallway covered with a soft red carpet. "But if I don't end this cold season soon, no difference what caused it, my people will die."

Lyle pushed open a door off of this hallway and revealed an elegantly furnished suite. "These will be your rooms during your stay," he told Lena, motioning her inside. She did so and began to look around. "You heard the orders I gave to my men. Come to the door and ask the guards for anything you want and my castle's staff will do their best to appease you."

"Short of leaving my room," Lena added the important detail.

"Yes, short of leaving your room." Lyle sighed. "I truly am sorry it has to be this way between us, Lena, but our goals are in direct conflict with one another and--"

"I understand," Lena said, cutting him off with a wave of her hand. "But answer me one thing, Lyle. You said your goal is to keep Rhys from finding Maia."

"And to fix the weather control systems, yes."

"Fine, keep Rhys from finding Maia and fix the weather. Well... what if it ends up that the only way to keep Rhys from Maia is to kill him? Hmm? What will you do then, Lyle?"

"Lena," Lyle sighed. "Lena, I sincerely hope it does not come to tha--"

"But what if it does? You know how I feel about Rhys, Lyle. I love him. And if you truly consider yourself my friend..."

There was a long, uncomfortable silence between them, which was finally broken by Lyle. "Lena, I must be leaving now. I will return as soon as possible." He started towards the door.

"Answer me, Lyle. Will you kill Rhys?"

"Good-bye, Lena," Lyle said from the hallway, and then he closed the suite's doors.

- - - - - - - - - -

Prince Rhys shivered as he stepped from the cave. Much like the one back in Landen, this cave concealed a secret stairway down into something Mieu had called a "transport tunnel," except this time, instead of going from the cave to the stairs to the tunnel, he and the android went from the tunnel to the stairs to the cave. Mieu, emerging from behind him, gasped as she took in the sight of Aquatica all around her.

Turning to the android, Rhys rubbed his hands across his arms and spoke, teeth chattering as he did. "I wish you'd told me it was cold season in this new world."

"It's not supposed to be..." Mieu replied in puzzlement. "Prince, hand me your Monitor." Rhys removed the device from his belt and did so. Mieu, who did not seem to be affected by the cold at all, turned the device on and gazed at the screen.

"That can give you a map of this world, as well?" Rhys asked in awe.

Mieu nodded absently and continued to gaze at the screen. The readout told her that the ship's main weather control systems currently had Aquatica's temperature set at eight degrees Celsius, but it also told her that Rysel wasn't far away. She turned the device off and handed it back to the prince. "The seasons may have changed, but Rysel is still exactly where it's supposed to be."

"Rysel?" Rhys repeated. "Is that another world, too?"

"No," Mieu chuckled. "It's a small village--" She pointed east. "--about forty-five minutes travel that way. Do you think you can make it?"

"Yes," Rhys nodded. "It's not that cold. But I hope their inn serves a nice mug of hot cider." As they started to march, he again noticed that Mieu didn't seem to be affected by the cold. "How about you?" he asked. "Can you make it?"

"My systems can function perfectly in this weather."

Rhys nodded understanding. They marched for ten minutes before Rhys decided that it was perhaps colder than he had originally thought. He needed a way to take his mind off the cold, and conversation seemed to be it. However, "So, this is Aquatica," was all he could think of to say.

"Yes, it is," Mieu replied, "and it's not supposed to be this cold. I believe there must be--" She stopped. Could she tell him about the weather control systems? Why not? she answered herself. He'd taken everything else well enough. "--a malfunction in the weather control systems."

"Weather control?" Rhys replied, as if trying out the new phrase. "You mean Aquatica actually has machines that control its weather?"

"Yes, Rhys. All seven worlds do, in fact. Including Landen."

"You're kidding me."

"No, prince, I'm not," she replied. "That world view just keeps changing, eh?"

Rhys was silent for several more minutes, perhaps considering the ramifications of controlled weather. "Mieu, can I ask a question?" he said at last.

"Of course."

"Why did I grow up never knowing about this world, or any of the others? Does my father know? He's King of Landen, so after all, if anyone should know, he should."

"It wasn't something that was planned to be a secret," Mieu explained. "Long ago, when I served under Orakio, everyone knew of the seven worlds, and like I explained earlier, the teleport stations were there for transport between them. But first, during the Devastation War, Laya conquered the teleport stations, and later, Orakio himself sealed the last of the passageways between the worlds. I suppose, in time, your people in Landen just forgot the other worlds existed."

"That makes perfect sense," Rhys responded. "I used to study Orakio, and the scholars who taught me talked about texts from the Devastation War era that spoke of strange places no one had ever heard of before. Places like... I believe one was called, 'Mis...'--"

"Mystoke," Mieu threw in. "Mystoke, it's a town in Frigidia, a very distant world."

"Yes, Mystoke, that's it," Rhys snapped his fingers. "My instructors said that archeologists had searched for it all over Landen, but to no avail. I guess now I know why. I also remember hearing that Orakio once had bases south of Ry-- south of Rysel! That's where we're heading now."

"Yes, that's right," Mieu nodded. She couldn't help but smile at Rhys's enthusiasm.

"Mieu, you once served under Orakio. Could you perhaps... perhaps show me these...?"

"Of course," Mieu nodded. "I know exactly where the bases used to be. And in fact, I think, sooner than later, we'll be heading there anyway."

- - - - - - - - - -

An hour later, Rhys was sipping his third mug of cider in Rysel's inn, sitting in front of a fire and bundled up in three thick blankets. Mieu sat nearby, and both listened to the assembled townspeople sitting at the various tables. They told Rhys and Mieu that theirs was a fishing village. "The deadly winter came upon us without warning," one man explained. "And we can't fish in a sea of ice! We've had to ration food, and watch helplessly as our stores get smaller and smaller. If this cold season doesn't end soon... we'll all starve to death."

"Don't worry," Rhys reassured the people. "My companion, Mieu, is an android who once served under Orakio."

Mieu smiled in response to their awestruck stares. "I know exactly where to solve your problem," she assured them. "With any luck, weather will be back to normal within days."

"Thank great Orakio for sending you to our village!" one woman cried out in happiness. "Thank great Orakio!" The others all seconded this motion, and a general cheer swept through the inn. Rhys and Mieu exchanged smiles at the sight.

A woman about Rhys's age with long blonde hair tied into a ponytail behind her back stepped to where Rhys sat by the fire. She sat down next to him, and motioned towards a group of villagers who sat near the corner of the inn. "Prince, me and my friends are performers, and before times got to be so bad, we used to put on many shows here in our inn. In honor of your visit, we'd like to perform for you and your companion. We minstrels know much of the ancient legends and we think you'd enjoy our show very much."

"Yes, I would," Rhys smiled back. "Mieu?"

"It sounds wonderful," Mieu replied. "What kind of legends do you sing about?"

"Tales of Orakio, mostly, and of the great deeds he performed, though my favorite is one that tells of our people fleeing a terribly evil thing called Dark Force! The legend says we are the last survivors of a race that sailed between the stars." With that, the girl stood and walked over to her fellow performers. They then went off together to another part of the inn to prepare the show, leaving Rhys and Mieu alone for a moment of discussion.

"It looks as though we're staying here for the night," Mieu said to Rhys.

"Agreed," he nodded. "I think it will take nothing less than a full night beside a fire to get this cold out of my bones anyway. But tomorrow morning, we have to help these people. You can fix those weather control systems you mentioned, right?"

Mieu pursed her lips and gazed at Rhys for a long moment. "I'm not sure," she finally admitted.

Slowly, Rhys lowered his mug from his lips. "But I thought you said--"

"I said I know exactly where to go," Mieu clarified. "But I honestly don't know if I can repair the winter here, Rhys."

Rhys took in these words, and then nodded in acknowledgment. "I understand," he said. "I know you'll do your best, and that's all I can ask of you."

With that, the minstrels were ready to begin their show. As it began, Rhys asked for another mug of cider, while Mieu sat back in her chair and thought about their situation. Obviously, the weather control systems were damaged. She, of course, knew the location of the weather control tower in Aridia, but what she didn't know was how to fix the weather control systems themselves. Wren could do it, she told herself. He wouldn't even have to think twice about it. But where was he? Orakio had promised that Wren would be here with her when she was again needed in 1,000 years. So why hadn't she found him yet?

For the first time since being brought back to full activation by Rhys back at the lake in Landen, Mieu found herself speaking to Orakio in the way Rhys and the others did. Orakio, if you were indeed right about Wren being here with me... now would be a good time for him to show up.

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