Despite the fact that he stood on Dezoris's Alplatin Plateau, which was made of solid permafrost with a layer of snow on top so thick that his feet were covered right up to the tops of his boots, the Esper wizard Noah was quite warm. Or at least his body was.
It shouldn't have been. What the people of Palma would consider a terrible blizzard raged all around him, though in the fourteen years he had lived on Dezoris, he had come to look upon the current blizzard as a tame one. He was not warm thanks to some f orm of his magic, either. And, in fact, it was only his body that was warm; Noah himself felt very cold indeed, but not because of the temperature, which was near twenty degrees below zero. He felt cold because of the sight he saw before him.
Esper Mansion, a safe haven for the race of telementals to which he belonged, burned before his tear-soaked eyes. As he watched, the flames kept his body warm, but the sight of the mansion burning, with nearly all of its' residents dead bodies inside, tu rned his heart and soul very cold, indeed -- almost as cold as the metal blade he held in his hand at his side.
Finally, after remaining still for so long, he rested his staff against his body so that he could bring a hand to his eyes and wipe away a few of his tears, before the cold Dezorian temperature could freeze them to his cheeks. He ran a hand across his mouth and glanced down at the Neisword in his hand. He'd created it and the other Nei items for the mansion's protection. He knew that the Espers were looked upon in most places with hostility, and on Dezoris with out-right hatred, but his people were trapped on Algo's ice world, with no way to return to their homeland of Palma.
It hadn't always been there, the hatred towards the Espers. Once, the Espers were looked upon as wise and powerful individuals; trusted advisors and guardians of peace and justice. But then came Lassic's seduction at the hand of Dark Force. The evil ty rant had banished all Espers from Palma, forcing them either into hiding or across the system to Motavia or Dezoris. In the process, the people's view of Espers took a massive turn for the worse, and it had never recovered.
Noah always wondered what would have happened if he had not been stranded with his people on Dezoris about a decade and a half earlier. Would the people's view had changed if they just would have had more time to learn who the Espers really were; more ti me to forget the incorrect image that Lassic had given them? Noah was optimistic that they would, but he would never know for sure. At least, not in this life.
But then "life" was a strange term, wasn't it? Of course he had but one; the one he had been living for the last thirty-five years. He realized, however, that those thirty-five years could easily be broken down into several sections. The naive boy he w as in his earliest teenage years would never have been able to journey with Alis Landale on her quest to overthrow Lassic, just as the Noah who joined Alis's quest was not as strong nor as powerful as the Noah that finally helped defeat King Lassic and the demon Dark Force.
And there were so many events in his life that had marked the different eras. Usually, they were catastrophic events which changed life entirelly entirely; occurrences that swept across the chalkboard of his life and made everything on it disappear in on e swift stroke. There was the first time he met Master Tajim, and there was the day that Alis, Odin, and Myau stumbled upon him, interrupting his training.
There was their ride in the skies surrounding Lassic's Dark Castle on the back of the Laerma-endowed Myau, and their battle with the dark king himself. There was their battle with Dark Force and Master Tajim's death and hearing of what had happened in Eppi...
And there was the day that he thought he had finally settled down; that he had finally found peace in his life. He remembered the exact moment it had happened, too. He and his friend Nasak were standing on the Alplatin Plateau, watching the rest of thei r people, and Nasak had leaned over and said,
"It's exciting, isn't it?"
Noah smiled and gave a brief nod before resting his chin on the back of his hands, which were stacked on the top of his staff. "It is indeed. All dreams are exciting, my friend, especially when they finally enter the land of the flesh."
The Espers' leader looked upon his people as they constructed their future home, Esper Mansion. It was a construction site unlike any other in all of Algo. Espers reached out with their minds and lifted metal and wood into place, just as another group c ast Wind spells to drive nails and screws into place. Another group was preparing materials to be added to the mansion by calling forth flame from their hands in order to soften metal before bending it into shape with their minds.
Noah looked to the sky, his smile falling into a small frown of regret. His friend Nasak caught the look and asked him about it. "Noah, what troubles you?"
"It is nothing," Noah shook his head. "I should not burden myself with regrets during this happy time, but I can't help but wish Master Tajim were here to see this. Without him, and without his guidance..." Noah waved his hand across Alplatin Plateau a t the one hundred or so Espers assembled. "...our people might still be scattered across the system."
Nasak rested a hand on Noah's shoulder. "He is here," he told Noah with complete confidence. "Perhaps not in the flesh, no, but he sees what you have done. And he is proud, just like the rest of us are."
Noah smiled at his friend just as a female voice called in their direction. "Now what are you two up to?" called Aria, wife of Nasak. "You're not going to change the design of the mansion on us again, are you? Add another floor and two more levels to t he basement?" Nasak and the Esper leader turned to see Aria, a female Esper two years younger than them, tromping through the snow towards them with a bundle of cloths held tightly in her arms.
"No, we shall wait to do that until tomorrow," Noah joked, drawing a playful elbow in the ribs from the newcomer in the process. "Is all well, Aria?"
"Perfectly well, Master. But I thought I'd help with the construction a bit, and ask my husband to look after our son."
"Of course," Nasak nodded, accepting the bundle of cloths (and baby) from his wife. "It gives me an excuse to extend my break, if nothing else." Noah and Nasak laughed as Aria rolled her eyes. Then she tromped back through the snow as the Esper leader and his friend looked down at the sleeping baby boy in Nasak's arms.
Lutz was just over one year old. After his parents had been killed back on Palma, he had been brought to Noah on Motavia. Nasak and Aria, unable to have children themselves, had adopted the child with open arms.
Nasak looked down at his adopted son and smiled, checking the boy's cheeks to make sure he was not cold. "Did all that hard work tire you out, big guy?" Nasak asked his sleeping child. "Yeah, you just about built the whole first floor of the mansion all by yourself, didn't you?"
His friend was not serious, obviously, but Noah wondered if Nasak knew that his playful words with his sleeping boy were closer to reality then he realized. The moment Lutz had first been placed in Noah's arms -- a time which seemed so long ago, but was really within the last year -- Noah had detected something in the infant he should not have been able to see for at least ten to thirteen years: power. Esper power.
Lutz, even as a relative newborn, almost overflowed with potential. That day had been another life changing day in Noah's life. Despite the fact that he had just assumed leadership of the Espers, he knew, the moment he first held Lutz, that Lutz would b e his successor as Esper leader.
"You know what my favorite part of this is, Noah?" Nasak asked, nodding out towards the half-finished mansion. "My favorite part is that this will be all Lutz remembers. He won't remember Lassic, or the Esper hunting, or even his parents, though, of cou rse, I intend to tell him all about Rie and April. He won't remember a world of chaos, a world in which we were forced to spread ourselves out in order to insure our survival. He'll have two things I never had: family... and safety."
A large smile spread out across Noah's face. "I never thought of that," he admitted, reaching out with his pinkie finger and sliding it into Lutz's tiny palm, just as the thumb on the baby's other hand went into his mouth. "But I can think of one thing that will be better even than that."
"What's that?" Nasak questioned.
"Not only will he be unable to remember Esper hunting," Noah began, "but he'll be able to live his life without ever having first-hand knowledge of it, as well."
And Noah was right.
For about fourteen years, at least.
"Hey, Lutz," the fifteen-year old Esper boy named Aric said, "is that a wild Dezorian elephant over there?"
"Where? Where?" Jain, a fourteen-year old Esper girl, hurriedly asked. Both Lutz and Aric shared a laugh as the girl frantically searched in all directions for the non-existent mastodon.
"Don't listen to them, Jain," warned the fifteen-year old Sophie. Despite the fact that the hair of everyone else present was varying shades of blue, Sophie's hair was bright white, the Esper result of recessive hair color genes. "The jerks are just tea sing you."
Lutz and Aric glanced at each other and rolled their eyes. The four of them walked with a group of twenty Esper children, most of them between fourteen- and sixteen-years-old, as Master Noah led them on a march across Dezoris's landscape towards Skure, a town founded by Palman colonists. Sophie and Jain brought up the very last of the group, with only Lutz and Aric behind them.
Aric leaned forward and wrapped an arm around Sophie, pulling himself right up to her ear. "Aww, don't spoil the party, Sophie," he said in his best mock-innocent voice. "We were just having a little fun."
Sophie responded by elbowing him hard in the ribs. His arm was instantly no longer draped around her, and in fact, he nearly lost his footing in the soft snow beneath him. Before he could protest to Sophie, however, Lutz tapped him on the shoulder and c alled to Aric's attention his latest prank.
A mischievous smile broke out across Aric's face as he saw Lutz had a finger pointed at the back of Jain's head. As Aric watched, Lutz called forth a small blast of flame, which surged forward and ignited a portion of Jain's light blue hair.
Lutz and Aric could not contain their laughter, and they erupted just before Jain started screaming. Sophie, alarmed, glanced over at her friend and quickly sprang into action, reaching out with her mind and lifting snow from the ground. She moved the s now through the air and used it to smother the fire in her friend's hair.
Once it was extinguished, Sophie assessed the damage while Lutz and Aric continued to laugh at their joke. "There, all better," Sophie reassured Jain after using a Heal spell to repair the damage. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Jain said, though her voice still wavered with a touch of fear.
The entire group had stopped, and everyone was looking back at Lutz, Aric, Sophie, and Jain. "What's going on back there?" called Lian, who, along with a girl named Dev, acted almost like Master Noah's assistants on the journey. Both were the oldest chi ldren present at seventeen.
"Are you all right, Jain?" asked Dev. Jain nodded yes and shot a glare of pure ice back at Lutz, whom she saw was no longer laughing. Instead, he stood with his head bowed, just as Aric did, but not because of some kind of embarrassment over what they h ad done. The reason for their averted eyes was the fact that Master Noah was staring directly at them and standing with his staff held out before him in a way that always intimidated the hell out of Lutz. And he did not look the least bit happy.
"I said, is there a problem back there?" Lian called again. While Dev's attention was focused on Jain's well-being, Lian was focused squarely on disciplining the culprits.
"No problem," Lutz called to the front of the group.
"No, none," Aric confirmed.
"See that there isn't," Noah called back, his stern voice making it very clear what the consequences would be if there were another "prank." With that, the incident was over. The group turned around and continued their forward march.
However, once the group's attention had drifted away from the back, Sophie took a moment to stop, turn around, and extend her arms, one towards Lutz and one towards Aric. She then unleashed a Wind spell at each of them, and both of the jokers fell to the cold, damp snow.
Jain giggled as the boys fell, but Sophie just shot them a glare. "Thanks, Sophie," Jain said to her friend as they continued marching.
"Not a problem," Sophie said in return. They took a few quick steps and caught up with the rest of the group. A moment later, Lutz and Aric picked themselves up off of the ground and followed.
"You shouldn't have done that, Lutz," Aric conceded.
"Hey, you thought it was funny, too!" Lutz fired back.
"Yeah, but I don't think it's funny to be on Master Noah's bad side." With that Lutz had to agree as, in his mind, he kept flashing back to the image of Noah, staff held out before him, intimidating as a Marauder.
Both boys behaved the rest of the way to Skure.
"Master Noah," Dev said after the group had started moving again, "Lutz lit Jain's hair on fire!"
"Are those two ever going to behave?" Lian chimed in. "You are going to punish them, aren't you, Master Noah?"
"I, and their parents, will deal with them in due time, Lian, I promise," Noah responded, but he paused for a moment before he did so, as if his mind were elsewhere.
"But Master Noah," Lian protested, "we need to--"
"Lian, please don't question my judgment," Noah reprimanded the youngster. "I have asked you and Dev to serve as my assistants on this training journey into Skure, not to act on Lutz's and Aric's parents' behalf. Please remember your role."
"Yes, Master," Lian nodded. "Of course."
Noah lowered the volume of his voice so that only Dev and Lian could hear. "Right now we have other matters to worry about. We are being watched by a Dezorian scout."
Behind him, Dev gasped. Lian looked around in all directions, but could see nothing. "Don't bother searching, Lian, at least not with your eyes," Noah called. "He is only a scout, and he is quite alone." With that, Noah turned his head slightly to the left, smiled, and waved his hand in greeting. Then he chuckled softly. "He was watching me through his telelens. I think I caught him slightly off-guard, to say the least."
The group completed their journey into Skure unhindered.
The biggest, grandest structure in the entire Dezorian city of Aukba was the President's Mansion, a three-story building that served as home and office for Dezoris's highest ruler, the Pai'tekkan. As nice as the building was, it paled when compare d to the skyscraper the President's Building would become in 1000 years, during the reign of General K'Cren. But one thing would remain constant: despite the fact that the title "president" was attached, the holder of the office of Pai'tekkan would have complete authority over the entire planet, dictator style.
General Ikuto, Pai'tekkan of Dezoris, sat behind his desk with his Sinc'tekkan, a Commander named C'Temm, behind him. Both Dezorians wore their elegant kem'pallahs and both were giving their complete attention to the room's only othe r occupant, one of the General's scouts.
"Tell ze Pai'tekkan what you told me," C'Temm ordered the scout.
"Pai'tekkan, I was at my post near ze Alplatin Plateau, when I saw--"
"Ze Espers?" Ikuto said, standing out of his chair quickly. "What are ze rodents doing?"
"Zere was an entire group of zem, sir. A group of teenagers, with one adult leading," the scout reported. "Zey began to head towards Skure, and so I followed zem in my Ice Digger."
Ikuto's face flushed red with anger. "I have tolerated zose Palman slime so long as zey stay in zeir mansion," he began in a low growl. "But now, zey march towards Skure. At least ze Palmans zere accept my authority, and obey my laws and pay my taxes. Zose Espers, however..."
The Pai'tekkan sat down, considering something in his mind. After a long moment, he turned to the scout again. "I trust you were not seen."
The scout shuffled on his feet, and found he could not meet the Pai'tekkan's eyes. "Pai'tekkan, I followed at a safe distance, but--"
"Look at me when you speak to me!" Ikuto suddenly shouted. The scout's eyes instantly met his General's.
"I say I followed at a safe distance, watching ze Espers zrough a lens. But as I followed, ze adult..." The scout drifted off.
"Tell him," Sinc'tekkan C'Temm said flatly.
"Or die," Ikuto added, drawing his laser pistol and aiming it at his scout. The scout took one look at the weapon, swallowed hard, and continued.
"As I followed, watching zrough ze lens, ze adult suddenly... turned, and looked straight at me!" he exclaimed. "I was very far away, but he just turned, looked at me zrough my lens, and waved."
"What?" Ikuto roared in a new outburst of fury, once again jumping from his chair as if he were blown out of it by dynamite. The scout instantly hit the floor, fearing he was to be shot, but Ikuto ignored him and tromped throughout the room. "Ze arrogance! I am General Ikuto, Pai'tekkan of Dezoris, and if zey are going to live on my planet, zen zey will bow to my authority!"
Raising the laser pistol, Ikuto unloaded the energy clip into the ceiling above him. The scout, still on the floor, trembled and cried out in fear. C'Temm, accustomed to his Pai'tekkan's outbursts, simply stood still, arms calmly folded across hi s chest.
Finally, after catching his breath, Ikuto returned to the chair behind his desk. "C'Temm," he said, turning to face his Sinc'tekkan, "prepare my army for an unscheduled training exercise."
"Of course, Pai'tekkan," C'Temm bowed. "What shall I have zem prepare for?"
"Tell zem we are about to evict ze Espers from Dezoris." C'Temm nodded and strode across the room to make the preparations. "And you!" Ikuto called to the scout on the floor. "Stand and leave my office before I turn you into a g'grat."
The scout quickly stood and left the office, nearly bowling C'Temm over in the process. That left General Ikuto alone to plan his attack on Esper Mansion.
I'm but only Lassic's shadow! Even if you defeat me, you've gained nothing at all!
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