In exasperation, Sophie threw her arms into the air and let out a soft growl of frustration. "Master Noah," she called, turning towards him, "this is impossible!"
Noah, who stood with his hands resting on the top of his staff, just smiled. "Not impossible, Sophie. Only rather hard. Which is why I'm trying to teach you."
Sophie, Jain, Lutz, Aric, and the other students stood around Master Noah, Lian, and Dev in the middle of a busy street in the city of Skure. All around them, Palmans -- and a few Dezorians, who had moved into the town after the original Palman colonists had built it into a large, bustling city -- pushed past without so much as a second glance, leaving the Esper students in the center of what felt like a tornado. The purpose of standing in the midst of the chaos was to teach the students how to put distractions aside and concentrate on their magic.
"Keep trying, Sophie," encouraged Dev. "On my first training mission, I didn't produce so much as a spark until our third day here."
Behind Sophie, Lutz raised his hand and tossed three quick fire balls into the air, barely even thinking about what he was doing. He yawned as he looked at the other students around him, including his friend Aric, who were all struggling to produce flame amidst the distractions.
All the while, Noah watched Lutz with quiet amazement. It seemed like every day the fifteen year-old was doing something new that revealed his powers to be much stronger than Noah had ever estimated. Who knows? Noah sometimes thought. The boy may even surpass me in ability someday.
"This is easy," Lutz groaned at last. "Master Noah, can we move on?"
"It's not so easy for everyone," Noah responded. He knew Lutz would probably pick up on the lesson right away, so he had a "Plan B" ready and waiting. "Why don't you help the others who don't quite have it yet?"
"I can't," Lutz said, shrugging his shoulders. "You just... do it."
While Lutz did not need much training to hone his powers, Noah knew that if he were indeed to inherit his throne as head Esper, he would need an abundance of training in leadership skills. That had been obvious for quite some time, but after today's hair-burning incident, Noah was afraid that it was going to require much more than he'd originally thought.
"Try, Lutz," Noah said, walking over to where Lutz had stepped away from the rest of the group. "Think about how you do it an--"
Noah broke off suddenly, his eyes darting to the town's entrance dome. Jain, who was also nearby, caught the sudden glance and looked to her teacher with alarm. "Master Noah?" she asked. "Master, is something wrong?"
When she didn't get an answer, she turned her attention to Lutz, to see if her hair-burning nemesis could speak for their teacher, but Lutz, too, had his attention on the town's entrance dome.
The student, however, did a much worse job of hiding his fear than Master Noah did.
Just as quickly as he entered his trance-like state, Noah was out of it. He raised his hands to his mouth and used some magic to amplify his voice across the entire town. "ATTENTION, CITIZENS OF SKURE!" his voice boomed. "THE DEZORIAN ARMY IS ABOUT TO ATTACK THE CITY! I REPEAT, THE DEZOR--"
But by that time, Sinc'tekkan C'Temm and his army was already storming into the city. Troops approached the two houses nearest the entrance dome and threw small objects in through the windows. A moment later, the two houses exploded in flame, its occupants still inside. A small group of Palmans who had converged near the entrance dome for a quiet conversation started to run as the soldiers entered, but they were quickly beaten down with clubs and rifle butts.
Noah had no idea what brought on the sudden, seemingly unprovoked attack, but he quickly knew what had to be done. "Students," he called to the frightened teenagers around him, "we must defend the city!"
And with that, the Espers helped the townspeople fight back.
Across the planet, Aria sat at a desk in her study, which was located in a set of rooms inside Esper Mansion which she shared with her husband, Nasak, and their adopted son, Lutz. Currently, she sat hunched over a book, devouring the words inside.
She was so caught up in the text that she did not hear her husband sneak up behind her, and so she was quite startled when he suddenly, in one swift motion, pulled her chair away from the desk and swept her out of it and into his arms. "Nasak!" she cried, kicking her feet. "Put me down this instant!"
In response, Nasak just grinned at his wife. He then turned so that his back was to the desk, putting himself between it and Aria. "What are you reading?" he inquired, twisting his neck around to get a glance at the book. "You seemed awfully caught up in it."
"Umm, er, psychology, actually. I was reading about Motavian psychology. Fascinating, really. Now put me down!"
Nasak again ignored his wife's command with a sly, playful grin. "Motavian psychology, eh?" He turned his attention back to her, away from the book. "It looks to me like one of those romance novels you enjoy so much."
Aria's face turned a bright red of embarrassment. Nasak caught the blush and began to laugh. "Nasak, if you do not put me down right now, so help me, I will bring thunder down upon you, do you understand?"
When she looked at her husband for a response, she saw that his face had fallen limp. Distracted, he quickly set her feet onto the ground and strode across the floor to the room's only window, the playful taunting over the "psychology textbook" instantly forgotten. The curtains at the window were already half-open, but he threw them open the rest of the way, and stared outward.
Meanwhile, not knowing what was going on, Aria just stood there, watching her husband intently. He finally turned around, a puzzled look on his face, and asked, "Do you hear that?"
His wife of sixteen years just shook her head, still clueless as to what was wrong with her husband. "What is it, Nasak?"
Nasak met her eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and shook his head. "I don't know," he admitted. "But it sounds like--" He stopped, realization hitting him. Quickly, he stole another glance out the window, then turned back to his wife, looking as stunned now as she had been embarassed a moment before. "It's an airship!" he yelled with alarm. "A Dezorian military airship!"
Shortly after that, the first bombs were dropped on Esper Mansion.
Master Noah and his students watched in horror as the Dezorian soldiers continued to fire bomb houses and murder Palman residents of Skure in cold blood. The townspeople, Palman and Dezorian alike, did what they could to defend their city, but the Espers were the ones that delivered the most punishment to the soldiers. The students lashed out with fire balls and mini-tornadoes, while Master Noah called lightning from the sky, where it connected with his staff before shooting out at attacking soldiers. Within moments, Skure had been turned into a city-wide war zone.
Somewhere across town, out of Noah's sight, a Dezorian was apparently using an amplification unit to make his voice boom across the city. Before the speaker even identified himself, Noah recognized the voice. "Dezorian citizens of Skure, zis is Sinc'tekkan C'Temm," he called. "I am here under direct order from ze Pai'tekkan, General Ikuto. We have learned zat ze Palman residents of zis town have been planning a conspiracy against you to steal your land, possessions, meseta... and, in some cases, your very lives."
"No!" Noah screamed, though not many heard him over the roar of his Thunder and his students' Wind and Fire. "That's not true!"
"Zerefore we are here to destroy ze Palmans," C'Temm continued, "and let zem know zat zey do not conspire against Dezorians, especially on our own planet!"
C'Temm's lie instantly turned the battle from bad to worse. Noah watched as the city's Dezorian residents, who had been defending their homes along with the others, turned on their Palman neighbors and attacked, joining the soldiers.
"Master Noah," Aric asked, the fear in his voice evident, "that's not true, is it?"
"Of course not!" Lutz answered for his teacher. "They just want an excuse to kick the Palmans off of their miserable ice cube."
Noah agreed with Lutz in part, but he felt that the Palman's eviction was only a secondary motive for the Dezorian attack. "I fear the Palmans are not the army's intended target, Lutz," Noah said. "Look!"
Noah and his students watched as down the street, three massive vehicles turned the corner and began surging forward at full-speed, which, actually, was only about twenty-five miles per hour. They were War Diggers: heavily armed and armored Ice Diggers, with larger-than-normal ice drills on the front, and a heavy plasma cannon mounted on the top of each vehicle. All three were driving straight towards the Espers.
"Run, my students!" Noah called, pushing past the group to put himself between them and the War Diggers. "Get to the outskirts of town!"
"We can't abandon you, Master!" Lian protested.
"Do not argue!" Noah reprimanded. Then, instead of looking to the students' leader, Lian, he looked to his most gifted student for further orders. "Lutz, use the Ryuka technique to get yourself and the other students to the outskirts of town."
Lutz, a bit stunned, blinked at his teacher. "Master... You, you haven't taught me--"
"Lutz, please," Noah interrupted with a sigh. "I know you have been practicing it on your own, without my supervision nor my consent, but for now, just do it! Get the students away from those War Diggers!"
The fifteen year-old locked eyes with his Master for a moment. He wanted to say no; to say that the others were going to stay here and help their Master. But after a moment of hesitation, Noah brought his staff around in front of him, and held it in the way that always intimidated Lutz into submission. "Lutz, now!"
Very quickly, Lutz closed his eyes and raised his hand into the air. "Master," Dev called out, extending a hand out towards him. "Master, we can't just--" But her sentence was cut short as she vanished from existence, leaving nothing behind Noah, and nothing in front of him except three Dezorian War Diggers.
As he faced-off with the machines -- staff before him in a ready position, Frad Mantle wrapped around his body -- he very much looked as he did when he faced the demon Dark Force fifteen years earlier. The only differences were that now his face contained deeper lines of age and also, of course, he was now alone. Neither Odin nor Myau nor Alis Landale were here to help him.
The master Esper watched as the giant treads beneath the massive War Diggers brought them closer and closer to him. He saw the Dezorian gunners through the transparisteel of their plasma cannon control stations, and he saw the guns themselves swivel on their mounts to aim squarely at him.
The War Diggers were still a considerable distance from him when they began to fire. As they did, Noah quickly raised a hand in front of him, palm facing the attacking machines, and the plasma cannon fire was absorbed by a shimmering blue force field which sprang to life between he and the War Diggers. They continued to fire, Noah continued to hold his hand out, and the energy blasts from the cannons continued to be absorbed by the magical force field.
As the War Diggers stopped firing long enough to recharge their cannons, Noah lowered his hand and brought his staff out in front of him. Though he held it upright, he aimed it in the general direction of the second War Digger, the one which sped down the streets of Skure between its two attacking brothers. There was a magnificent flash from the sky, and then lighting came and struck the head of Noah's staff. From there, it was rerouted and surged forward into the center War Digger, meeting the massive machine head-on and instantly stopping its forward roll of destruction by causing it to explode.
But it wasn't exactly enough. Noah had hoped the explosion would take out the other two Diggers, as well. Instead, they had merely recharged their plasma cannons, and the destruction of their companion vehicle didn't seem to slow them down an inch. They converged towards one another, filling the gap left behind by the second Digger, and continued their charge towards Noah, who realized that by now, they were far too close to risk the force field trick he'd tried earlier. He closed his eyes, chanted under his breath, and then his body became lighter and lighter until it was nothing.
He rematerialized next to Lutz and the other students. They were on the outskirts of the underground city, looking out over its destruction. "Master!" Jain called out as he appeared. Her friend Sophie was right next to her.
"Master, there are more War Diggers throughout the city," Lian reported. "They're carving Skure up like a Dezorian Owl on Founding Day." He referred to an Esper holiday which celebrated the completion of Esper Mansion's construction.
Noah nodded an acknowledgment to Lian, who was supposed to be his second-in-command on this mission, but then he looked to Lutz for a further report. "Did you call the mansion for reinforcements?" he asked.
In response, Lutz nodded. "Yes, I did," he began, but then his nod turned to a shake. "But I couldn't get an answer. Perhaps my telepathy can not reach that far."
The Esper leader stared off into the distance, eyes glazed over as he concentrated on telepathic communication. A moment later, he gasped.
"By the God of Algo, no..." he silently whispered under his breath. It was so soft, only Lutz was close enough to hear.
"What is it, Master?" he asked, instantly alarmed. "Is something wrong?"
Noah spun on the teenagers and pulled Lutz and Lian aside. "Stay here," he commanded. "Do not engage the Dezorians, and do not let any of your fellow students do so, either. If they approach you, put up protective shields, but do not fight them. Is that understood?"
It was Noah's refusal to answer Lutz's question that scared him more than anything else. The very frightened boys simply nodded, and then Noah once again used the Ryuka technique, and vanished.
"What did he say to you, Lian?" Sophie asked once their Master was gone. "Lutz? What did he say?"
"Nothing, really," Lutz answered honestly. "I suppose that's what scares me the most."
Nasak, a friend of Noah's since childhood, defiantly strode across what used to be the main entrance hall of Esper Mansion, his white cloak flowing around him as he squarely focused on his one goal and ignored everything else around him.
He ignored the fact that he had just seen an explosion tear apart his wife of sixteen years. He ignored the fact that he was also wounded in the same explosion. He ignored the fact that, shortly thereafter, the airship bombings, combined with the several War Diggers that had driven right into the mansion itself, had brought the mansion's second story tumbling down.
Nasak ignored almost every Dezorian he passed, even if the Dezorian in question was attacking an Esper. The only time Nasak stopped to notice the mansion's attackers was when one got in his way, at which time he lashed out with a quick bolt of Thunder and simply moved the Dezorian out of his path.
When Nasak found his way to the mansion's main entrance hall blocked by a pile of debris, he reached out with his mind, pushed it aside, and then promptly continued his forward march. He ignored the fact that the entire entrance hall was ablaze, and in fact, he only acknowledged the fire by calling forth a bubble of protection to keep it from harming him. Or, more correctly, to keep the flame from keeping him away from his goal.
He finally reached his goal and stopped ignoring the things around him when he stepped through the opening that used to be the doors to Esper Mansion. Anyone who would have seen the sight from the outside would have seen a shimmering blue protection field push past the flame and smoke that poured from the mansion's door, followed by the emergence of a man in a white cloak stained red with his and his wife's blood and black from the ashes of his personal belongings that exploded when the bombs hit his quarters.
Nasak took several steps out onto the Alplatin Plateau, his jaw locked in determination, before he raised his hand to the sky and sent a massive blast of thunder down upon one of the retreating army War Diggers.
The War Digger exploded instantly, coughing up its passengers and spitting them out all over the Alplatin Plateau. Nasak confirmed that he had reached his destination when he saw that nine of the War Digger's passengers each held one of the items of Nei, seemingly normal items which Master Noah had blessed with Nei, or power, in the early days of the mansion, in order to protect it from attacks just like this one.
But somehow, the Dezorians had managed to take them. Right after the explosion in his quarters claimed his wife, he sensed the Espers wielding the items on the first floor below had been defeated, and that the Dezorians had claimed the items and were using them against the Espers. More than that, they intended to take them back to their cities as a trophy of their victory over the Espers.
Nasak knew that he could not let this happen, and so he had immediately worked his way outside to stop their retreat and reclaim the items.
Two of the nine Nei-item-welding Dezorians died in the War Digger's explosion, but others stood up, took the items their dead comrades carried, and hopped aboard other retreating vehicles. It was around this time that Nasak realized he would be able to save only one of the items, but when he realized which item it was, not to mention the Dezorian who carried it, a smile of satisfaction spread out across his face.
He did not believe in luck, so in his mind, he said a silent prayer to the God of Algo for depositing the Neisword and Dezorian Pai'tekkan General Ikuto right in front of his feet.
Nasak took three steps forward, but by then, the dazed Ikuto was back on his own feet. He looked around him and saw that all of his War Diggers had abandoned him, leaving him to fend for his own on the Alplatin Plateau. "General Ikuto, I presume," Nasak said, dropping his force field of protection now that he was away from the flame which engulfed the mansion. "Your men have escaped with eight of the items of Nei. We will reclaim them, eventually. But I'm afraid I must insist that the Neisword remain right here."
Ikuto chuckled and raised the Neisword one-handed before him in a defensive gesture. "You arrogant rat," he spat at Nasak. "After I kill you, I shall enter ze ruins of your mansion and feast on ze blackened flesh of your women and children, using your 'mighty sword' as a fork."
Nasak ignored the comments, despite the fact that it made him relive the moment of his wife's death, and extended one arm in front of him to accept the sword from Ikuto. "I will give you one last chance, General," Nasak said calmly. "Give me the Neisword, or Commander C'Temm shall become Pai'tekkan of Dezoris."
Once again, Ikuto laughed at Nasak's threats. "Commander C'Temm, even as we speak, is in ze process of burning Skure to ze ground!" Nasak's thoughts immediately turned to his son, Lutz, but again, right now there were more important things to worry about. He didn't exactly know why, but he knew that there was no way in all of Algo that General Ikuto was leaving the Alplatin Plateau with the Neisword.
"You see, Esper roach," Ikuto continued, "today shall be remembered for all time as Dezorian Liberation Day. Today, I, Pai'tekkan General Ikuto, evict ze Palmans from ze great planet Dezoris. More zan zat, today is also ze day zat I drive ze Espers to extinction, not just on Dezoris, but zroughout Algo. Do you understand me, Esper? Today, your entire race dies!"
"I have warned you," Nasak called, raising his voice to drown out Ikuto's. "Give me the Neisword. Now!"
Ikuto's face fell into an evil glare, and he again held the sword out before him one-handed. "If you want it, Esper roach, come and get it."
For a moment, Nasak just stared Ikuto in the eye. Then, he said, simply, "Fine."
With his arm still extended before him to accept the weapon, Nasak reached out with his mind and pulled on the Neisword. The blade started to move through the air, but Ikuto, almost as determined to steal the blade as Nasak was to keep it, kept his grip on the handle and dug his feet into the snow, resisting the mental pull. He did, however, lose much of his confidence under the metal attack.
"Stop it! Let go!" the Dezorian leader called, his voice frantic with fear.
"I warned you, General Ikuto," Nasak replied, his own voice filled with complete calm. "You are not leaving with that sword." Nasak reached out again, and with one final tug of telekinesis, the Neisword came flying across the air to land in his hand.
The only problem was that a Dezorian hand was still wrapped around the handle.
General Ikuto dropped to his knees and howled in agony, his left hand covering the blood-spurting hole where his right arm used to be. Through his screams, he opened his eyes long enough to see Nasak unwrap his own green fingers from the Neisword's blade and casually discard his limb on the ground, where it began to turn the snow around it bright crimson.
"Thank you," Nasak nodded to General Ikuto. "You may leave now. We will come for the other eight items later."
Noah's childhood friend spun on his heels and turned back towards the mansion's doors. There was now urgency in his step; now that he had rescued the Neisword, he had to make it back inside and help as many Espers as he could.
In fact, he was so focused now on what he completely ignored earlier that he did not even realize that, behind him, General Ikuto had raised his laser pistol and aimed it at his back.
When Nasak heard the shot, he stopped his forward movement, looked down, and saw a blast of energy burst out of the front of his chest. The next thing he knew, his entire torso was filling with incredible agony.
Slowly, each move producing more pain, he turned around in time to see Ikuto, who held the laser pistol with his one remaining arm, raise the weapon a few inches higher. It appeared to Nasak that Ikuto was putting his forehead in the middle of the weapon's sights.
Time itself seemed to slow to a crawl. After noticing his head was now in Ikuto's crosshairs, Nasak again looked down at the gaping wound in his chest. Then, before Ikuto could fire again, he casually raised the Neisword and held it straight out horizontally in front of him, aimed at the Dezorian who had led the attack on Esper Mansion. Using the Neisword to channel and boost his power, he unleashed a massive volley of Thunder.
Ikuto screamed, but only for a second, because then his body was completely incinerated by the blast.
Time sped up again. Almost immediately after that, Nasak fell to the now of the Alplatin Plateau and closed his eyes.
A gentle breeze caresses Baya Malay. But does the breeze knows of the hardships that they endured?
|Please send all comments and feedback to mike at ripplinger dot us|