As he dematerialized, his vision blurred, erasing the scene of Skure's destruction from his eyes. Noah prayed that when he rematerialized, he would see nothing of the sort.
But instead, what he saw was far worse.
The second floor of Esper Mansion had collapsed down onto the first, and the entire pile of ruin formed the center of a giant bonfire on the Alplatin Plateau. There were a few Espers outside who had apparently escaped the fire, but they had all been killed by Dezorians and now lay motionless on the ground. Noah's eyes scanned the scene and saw the wreckage of a War Digger, and several Dezorian bodies, as well.
And then the first floor of the mansion collapsed under the weight of the fallen second floor, and with a loud crash the entire structure fell to ruin. Noah probed the debris with his mind, despite the fact that he already knew what he'd find.
No one was alive inside.
"No!" Noah, Algo's greatest telemental, fell to his knees, his entire body wracked with tears, and screamed to the sky. Some of his screams were the word "no"; others were just outbursts of grief and emotional agony. Within a few moments, he pressed his hands tightly against his temples and dropped his head to the snow, as well, allowing his tears to spill out onto the Alplatin Plateau.
The only thing he could think about, besides the dead bodies of his people, was Myau. His good friend, the Musk Cat warrior named Myau. Fifteen years earlier, during his epic adventure with Alis Landale, Odin, and Myau, the four heroes had journeyed to the Palman town of Abion, where, in the laboratory of Doctor Mad, they had found the bodies of several tens of Musk Cats. Myau had been nearly pushed over the edge with grief at this sight, and for the next several days he had remained very quiet.
Oh Myau, Noah thought as he grieved. Myau, I now know how you felt. I wish to God I didn't, but I now know.
It was around this time that Noah heard his name being called very faintly in the distance.
The Espers' leader rose and scanned the carnage with his eyes until he saw a single hand in the air, shaking with the strain of holding it up. Noah wasted no time; he closed his eyes and used his power to teleport to the man's side instantly.
"Nasak!" he cried as he arrived. His friend managed to smile up at him as he lay dying in the snow. Noah knelt down close to his friend and prepared a healing spell, but his friend declined.
"No, old friend," Nasak coughed. "Save your strength. It's... too late for me."
"Nasak, where is Aria?" Noah asked.
"My wife is dead," was the whispered reply. "She was killed by one of the initial bombings."
"Are there...?" Noah asked hesitantly without finishing. Again, he already knew the answer, but he asked so as not to give up hope.
"No one survived," Nasak confirmed. "The Dezorians killed us all. Even General Ikuto was here. He wanted something... but I wouldn't let him have it." Nasak's hand clawed around at his side, searching for the Neisword, but once attention had been drawn to the area, Noah himself spotted the blade and picked it up.
"I'm sorry, Noah, but they got the other eight Nei items. I tried to stop them, but--"
"Shh," Noah cut him off. "Old friend, you have done a wonderful job."
"Something just..." Nasak began, then continued after a series of coughs. "Something just told me that I had to rescue that sword."
"Please rest," Noah told him. "Don't speak. You need--"
"No," Nasak interrupted. "Noah, my time is up. But... may I make one... last request?"
"Of course, anything."
"It's my son..." It was getting harder and harder for Nasak to speak, but thoughts of Lutz brought a fresh smile to his face. "Please look after Lutz. I know he's a little... obnoxious... now and then, but please, Noah..." Convulsions wracked Nasak's body. Noah leaned in closer and held his friend's body in his arms. "Please... make sure... he becomes an honorable... man..."
And those were his final words. Noah gently set his dear friend's body on the snow, realizing that Nasak had truly lived up to the meaning of his name: he who sacrifices himself for the benefit of others. Then Noah stood, holding his staff in one hand and the Neisword in his other. The flame from the mansion made him warm, but his soul felt very cold, indeed.
As he watched the mansion burn, he ran over the major events of his life in his mind. When he arrived at the present, after recalling all of the hatred and strife Espers had faced over the years, his mind was dominated by a single thought, two words long.
He remembered how, in the days after Abion, when Myau was very silent, Noah had probed the Musk Cat's mind, to try and understand what he was going through. All he could read was two words; the same two words that even now echoed through Noah's own mind over and over again.
Gripping his staff and the Neisword tightly, Noah closed his eyes and used his power to return to the students in Skure.
The teenaged Esper students stood on the outskirts of Skure and watched as the Dezorian army, led by Sinc'tekkan C'Temm, advanced towards them.
Behind the approaching forces, Skure was devastated. Most of the buildings had been fire-bombed, and not a single window remained intact in the entire underground city. The air was filled with clouds of smoke from the several hundred fires which burned throughout the once bustling town. Many of the residents who had once lived and worked here lay dead in the streets they had fought to defend, and now their killers stepped over them on their way to the entire attack's intended target: the Espers.
"Yeah, yeah, come and get us, you murdering slimeballs," Lutz muttered under his breath his as he prepared a ball of flame between his hands.
"Forget about Fire, Lutz," Lian responded. "Let's work on Wall. You remember what Master Noah said."
"No," Lutz answered, "I don't remember. Did Master Noah say something about not engaging the Dezorians? Funny, I don't recall that."
"Lutz!" Lain reprimanded. "He's our leader, we have to listen to him."
"I think Lutz is right, Lian." Sophie said as she called forth lightning to dance between her two hands. "Let's fry 'em."
Lutz, Lian, and Sophie, as well as Aric, Jain, Dev, and the others, were then instantly silenced, their argument over, as Master Noah appeared next to them, behind their magical barrier. He stood and watched the advancing Dezorian army with cold, unfeeling eyes, his staff in his left hand and the Neisword in his right.
"Master, is all well at the mansion?" Lian asked hesitantly.
"No, Lian," Noah answered quietly. "All is far from well."
The Dezorian army was now close enough so that all of them could hear Commander C'Temm issue orders to his officers. "All troops, prepare to fire on the Espers!"
"That's what you think!" Lutz blurted, his hands instantly bursting into flame... a flame which was quickly extinguished by one look from Master Noah.
"No!" the Esper leader yelled to his most promising student. "They are mine."
The students exchanged glances at their master's sharp words. "Master..." Dev offered. "Surely... Surely you don't mean to say you don't want our help?"
"Dev, all I mean to say," Noah began, "was best put into words by Myau, the greatest Musk Cat warrior that ever lived. I quote him when I say... never again!"
And with that, all hell broke loose.
Noah slammed the bottom of his staff hard into the ground, pointed the Neisword to the sky, and then lashed out with an incredibly large Megid attack. A groundshake ripped through the ice beneath Skure. The "ceiling" of the underground city cracked in a million places, then began to rain down on the ruins in large chunks. All the while, the Dezorian soldiers -- or at least those that hadn't been killed instantly -- ducked for cover.
After several moments of mass destruction, Noah touched the tip of the Neisword's blade to the head of his staff. Only a few sparks were created at first, but soon a gigantic firestorm ripped through the city, wiping out the last of the soldiers, including Commander C'Temm. Skure took on the appearance of hell itself as it burned like a supernova. It didn't take much of this before all of the earth between the Dezorian ground and Skure simply exploded upward, exposing the city to the Dezorian sky for the first time in its history.
"Sophie!" Jain called out in fear as the fire raged all around them, despite the fact that Noah and the students were protected by magical walls.
"Lutz," Aric began, yelling over the sheer decibel volume of the fire attack, "why is Master Noah destroying the city?"
Lutz himself didn't exactly know, but he had an idea. "Because the Dezorians already killed everyone here," he yelled back. "But if they don't get out alive, or take Skure for their own, then it's not a victory."
If the students hadn't been busy talking, they would have then seen Noah fold his arms across his chest in an "x" pattern while keeping the Neisword and his staff in his hands. As he did this, the firestorm stopped, but just as the cacophony it created dispersed, a new frighteningly loud noise took its place, and this one got louder by the second.
They looked into the air and saw that Noah had taken all of the dirt, snow, ice, and permafrost that had exploded into the air and reformed it into fifteen giant meteors, which even now he pulled down towards what was left of Skure.
There were more incredible explosions of soil and permafrost as the meteor shower hit. Lutz and the other students again flinched and ducked, despite the fact that they were protected by a barrier.
When the smoke finally cleared, they looked up and saw Master Noah looking over his work, his face devoid of emotion. Out past him, Skure simply no longer existed.
They stood and looked upon the wasteland in muted shock. Had Master Noah really done all of this on his own?
"Let's go," Noah whispered to them. Soon after that, their bodies began to feel light.
"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 course, 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."
The dream he'd shared with his now deceased friend had crumbled to ruin along with the mansion that even now materialized before his eyes. His students, including Lutz, were a few steps behind him, and they were about to see everything that Noah had never wanted them to see.
As they fully materialized, Lutz, Sophie, Jain, Aric, Lian, Dev, and the others all saw the tower of flame that burned in the middle of the Alplatin Plateau. They looked around them and saw the dead bodies, both Esper and Dezorian, strewn across the ground, the snow underneath them colored a bright crimson.
"Our parents..." Jain started to sob.
"Our friends," Aric added.
"Our people," Lutz said, summing it up. It wasn't just family and friends and neighbors that had been killed. More than that, it was Esper society itself that had been destroyed by the Dezorians. That realization was not lost on any of them, and it made their grief that much more painful.
"I built Esper Mansion so that none of you would ever know the sight you see before you now," Noah softly addressed them. "But somewhere along the way, I failed miserably. Both Pai'tekkan Ikuto and Sinc'tekkan C'Temm are dead, but that is not enough." He took a deep breath, then turned to look over the stunned and grief-stricken faces of his pupils. "Students, I need your help to insure that this never again happens. Never... again."
Turning back to face what was once the mansion, Noah thrust his staff forward ahead of him, and as he did so, the eyes of all of the students snapped shut as their heads tilted slightly backwards. Drawing on his own power as well as that of his students, Noah called upon massive amounts of magic, channeled them through the Neisword...
And rebuilt the entire Alplatin Plateau.
To spare the children the agony of burying their own parents and friends, Noah reached out with his mind and lifted the bodies into the funeral pyre burning from the ruins of the mansion. Sparing the children the agony of course thrust it all onto his shoulders, and the pain of what he was doing was not lost on the master Esper. Though his eyes remained tightly shut in deep concentration, tears managed to push their way out of his eyelids.
After the bodies had been cremated, Noah, eyes still closed, pointed the Neisword at the burning mansion. A moment later, winds swirled up all around him and attacked the flames, blowing them out almost instantly like some kind of giant candle.
What happened next was probably the single most awesome display of magic ever performed in Algo, but as Noah and the students all stood with their eyes closed, it was never witnessed by anyone.
Deep inside the pile of rubble from the mansion, fields of stars began to circle around the blackened pieces of wood, restoring them instantly to their original condition, unburned and fully painted. Tiny shards of glass rose into the air, converging with hundreds of other shards, until complete windows had been formed. After being repaired, each piece of wood, metal, and glass rose into the air and simply hovered exactly where it was supposed to be.
A pile of blackened feathers was magically restored into a bed mattress, joined a moment later with complete, clean, unburned bed sheets. Heaps of shattered porcelain and ceramics reformed into bowls and plates. Metal fused with glass and light bulbs were re-created before flying into the sky and floating in the air alone, giving off soft light while waiting for the room the bulb belonged to to be rebuilt.
The whole process took only about five minutes. At the end of it, Noah opened his eyes and saw the round two-story structure of Esper Mansion quietly resting before him, giving off soft light exactly as it had when he and the students had left for Skure.
But Noah was not finished. His eyes closed shut again and he raised his staff into the air. Softly chanting, he prepared the most powerful Wall spell Algo had ever seen, and when he slammed the base of his staff back into the ground, blue energy shot out of its end and spread out all across the sky. The burst lasted only a few seconds, but once it was over, a shimmering force field dome covered the entire Alplatin Plateau.
And Noah was still not finished. He raised the Neisword high above his head before throwing it across the Alplatin Plateau. The weapon which Nasak saved spun and circled through the air until the blade landed, burying itself deep in the permafrost beneath the snow.
The moment it hit, a massive groundshake rocked the plateau. Noah opened his eyes in time to see another storm of rock and ice, not unlike the one at Skure, out past the force field. With satisfaction, he saw a few chunks of debris rain down towards the mansion before being deflected by his new force field. All the while, the ground shook and shook.
When it finally stopped, the Crevice had been created. It was now the only way to get to or from the Alplatin Plateau.
Never again. Never, ever again.
Noah let out a deep breath. His eyes were closed and his mouth was a straight line. His pride and happiness in his work was overshadowed by the incredible grief he still felt.
But he would have time to grieve later, on his own. As leader of the Espers, his people, not himself, were his priority. He turned to face his students--
--and gasped with shock. They were no longer standing. Each one of them now lay sprawled out on the snow, breathing steadily but unconscious.
If Noah had been alarmed before, a quick, almost instinctual, probe of their minds turned his alarm to flat-out terror. He would have never drawn on their powers for help if he would have known--
"No," Noah whispered. "Oh God what have I done?"
He knelt down next to Lutz first, who was the closest to him. Laying a hand on the boy's forehead, he cast a Cure spell. The boy's eyes fluttered open, and slowly he started to come awake, but Noah had already moved on to the next child, Lian. Next, he healed Sophie, Jain, and Aric.
But as Noah stepped towards Dev, he began to feel dizzy. A sharp pain suddenly filled his skull, as if a Mastodon was ramming its tusk into his forehead. He brought his hands to his head and grunted in pain.
Behind him, Lutz and Lian were just starting to stir. Both had rose to a sitting position, looking about them in wonder at the rebuilt mansion and the new force field. Quickly, however, their attention turned towards their leader.
"Master Noah?" Lian quietly asked. His head was filled with pain, too. "Master Noah, are you--"
He was cut off as Noah's eyes rolled back into his head. He collapsed to the snow and fell unconscious.
"I am Alis Landale," said the girl who had interrupted his training. "This is Odin, and this is Myau. Are you Noah, the Esper?"
"Yes, I am Noah," he'd replied with a huff. He'd been so impatient back then. Patience was probably one of the most important things he'd learned in his life; more important, even, than the Wind spell. "But I'm busy with my training now. Don't be a nuisance. Take your leave. You are not welcome here."
The images left his mind as quickly as they arrived. It was as if he were in an open Landrover, driving past his memories at top speed. He was only allowed glances.
"Master...," he'd asked Tajim, "this cloak is reserved for only the highest order Esper... how can I..."
With an upheld hand, Tajim had cut him off. "The coming days for you will be tumultuous, young Noah. You will need the power of the cloak. And there is nothing more that I can teach you... your destiny, as well as the destiny of the others, is paramount to Algo."
With a glance, he saw he and Alis and Myau and Odin battling Lassic, and then the Dark Force, as if his memory were proving to him that what Master Tajim had said was true.
The distant voice pulled at him, and he found the visions of his memory drifting away, only to be replaced by the image of
Lutz, standing over his bedside, applying a damp washcloth to his forehead. Noah nodded to the boy, then glanced at the other side of his bed, where Lian stood, looking upon his master with concern in his eyes.
Despite the fact that it still felt as if an icepick were being jammed into his forehead, Noah gently probed the minds of both boys. "So it is true," he said with a sigh. "I have destroyed all of your powers. What the Dezorians started with their attack on the mansion, I have finished with my own foolishness."
"Master--" Lutz began, but Noah cut him off.
"You children would have been able to rebuild Esper society, but my own impatience has ruined all chance of that." He closed his eyes, placed a hand on his forehead, then added, under his breath, "Have I learned nothing since the day Alis barged in on my training?"
"Master," Lutz started, finally allowed to speak. "I still have my powers."
Noah opened his eyes and looked up at the boy, skepticism written all over his face. In response, Lutz raised his hand to demonstrate. He focused on his palm, exerting all of his concentration. Within a few moments, a few sparks had been created. Soon after that, a flame the size of a candle fire rested in Lutz's palm.
"So you have," Noah whispered, an instant change overcoming his demeanor. "But they're so weak, as are my own powers, that I couldn't detect them when I probed your mind..."
"Master, we'd like permission to take the mansion's Ice Digger and journey out across Dezoris," Lian asked. "We need to search for any Palmans that survived Skure--"
"No one survived Skure, Lian," Noah interrupted.
"All right..." the boy said, taking a breath. "Then we need to look for anyone that was outside of Skure at the time the Dezorians attacked. We need a doctor."
Noah looked to Lian with alarm. "Who is injured?"
"You are," Lian responded, as if stating the obvious. "The rest of us are fine, but without our powers, we have no way of helping you--" He stopped as Noah waved a hand in the air.
"No, no, no. No one is leaving the mansion. That is final." He took another deep breath -- each one seemed like it took more energy than the last -- and glanced at Lutz, before returning his gaze to Lian. "If you don't mind, Lian," he said, "I'd like to be left alone with Lutz. You can wait for him downstairs."
With a nod and a glance towards the troublemaker, Lian stepped to the bedroom's door. He opened it and stepped through without looking back, then he closed the door behind him.
"Master, I'm sorry," Lutz began before Noah could say a word. "I'm sorry for lighting Jain's hair on fire. It was stupid and it'll never happ--" He stopped and bowed his head, realizing the full scope of what he was saying. "It will never happen again. How can it? My powers are all but useless."
"Lutz, listen to me," Noah addressed his star pupil. "Your powers are only weak, not gone. They will return to their maximum strength, but it will take some time." The fifteen year-old boy nodded in acknowledgment, but kept his eyes averted towards the floor.
"Come here. Sit down," Noah said, patting the bed next to him. As Lutz did as he was told, he looked at Noah and saw that the Esper leader wass smiling. "Lutz... I've never told you this, but the very first moment I laid eyes on you... I knew you'd be the Espers' next leader."
"What?" Lutz exclaimed, nearly jumping off of the bed. "Master, what are you talking about?" He was flattered by Noah's words, but Lutz did not at all like the tone in which they were spoken.
Noah took another deep breath, even though it was getting to be so difficult to do so. "Lutz, I'm so sorry that it has to happen like this. You've already been given a crushing blow today. You really don't need to deal with Esper leadership on top of everything else."
Tears were now rolling down Lutz's cheeks. "No!" he pleaded. "Master, don't talk like that! You're going to be fine. You... you're a pretty young guy! You'll be our leader for a long time."
"Lutz, please," Noah said softly. "I know this is hard. You've already been orphaned twice. But Lutz..." He paused for air. He felt so weak. "Lutz, I don't have much time, and I have so much to tell you. I wanted to use the Telepathy Ball, but... I see that will not be an option... I'll have to use... Elsydeon."
"Eh... Elsydeon?" Lutz repeated. For some reason, the word greatly intrigued him. "What's that?"
"It's a place," Noah managed to say with a smile. He'd exerted himself far too much in leveling Skure and rebuilding the mansion... far too much... "It's a beautiful place. The name means, 'Where the Great One rests.' My friend is there..."
"Where is it?" Lutz asked.
"I'll tell you," Noah nodded. "You must go to it. There... you will learn... all I must tell you." With great effort, the Esper leader leaned forward, and motioned Lutz to do the same. He placed his hand on the boy's forehead, and with the last bits of power he had within him,
hidden passage and secret room and sacred altar
he telepathically told Lutz how to get to Elsydeon. Then he collapsed back onto his pillows, his breathing very labored.
"Master!" Lutz cried, his hand reaching out and taking Noah's and squeezing it tight.
Noah opened his eyes enough to glance at the corner of his room, where Lutz and Lian had left his staff and the Frad Mantle, the cloak of Esper leadership. "Take those, Lutz," he spoke, his voice barely audible. "They're yours now."
Lutz suddenly realized that his teacher, mentor, leader -- and yes, his friend -- was about to die, and there was nothing he could do save accept it. "I... I'll try and make you proud, Master Noah."
Oddly enough, Noah just shook his head. He struggled to breathe and to keep his eyes open long enough to get one last look at his star pupil and successor. "Not for me, Lutz..." he whispered, and Lutz knew he was speaking his last words. "You will learn... it's not for me... but for Algo..."
"Master?" Lutz hesitantly whispered.
When there was no answer, he sank to the floor next to Noah's bed, resting on his knees and crying with his arms around Noah's body in a final embrace.
I'm but only Lassic's shadow! Even if you defeat me, you've gained nothing at all!
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