Kyra Tierney padded across the snow towards Esper Mansion's Inner Sanctum, a small feeling of apprehension nestled in the base of her stomach. She brushed her hair back behind her shoulder as she reflected back on her last journey to the Inner Sanctum two years earlier. On that visit, she had been almost petrified with anxiety, believing she was about to come face to face with the two thousand year old Lutz, the mentor and idol of all Espers, though most had only seen him in person -- from a distance -- one time. If that.
She supposed that original visit was the source of her anxiety now, as she looked upon the exquisite architecture of the Inner Sanctum, for it was during that original visit that she learned all of her beliefs were based on a lie. Lutz was not alive. He'd been dead for almost a millennium. (Rune had initially told her simply that Lutz had died "long ago." It was only upon further pressing that he gave her the exact date.) The sheer weight of the lie, coupled with the length of time it had been perpetuated, had been enough, over time and after lots of digestion of the idea, to plant a powerful seed of cynicism deep within Kyra.
Her family and all of her friends had noticed the change in her, as it occurred over time, and she vocally attributed it to the experiences she had been through with Chaz Ashley. That wasn't a lie, but nor was it the whole truth. She knew what the whole truth had done to her; she didn't want the same to happen to all of Esper society. So she told no one the exact reason why she had changed.
And thus, she became a part of the lie herself.
Now she stood directly before the doors to the Inner Sanctum, the place where her life was forever changed. Two years before, she had stepped through these doors as an eager, headstrong, buoyant eighteen year old girl. Now she was a somewhat jaded, cynical twenty year old young woman, trying to make sense of the truth as she now knew it.
She wasn't sure he would recognize her.
She opened the doors and stepped inside. The two of them were standing in the antechamber, conversing softly, and their eyes immediately moved to her as she entered. She glanced briefly at Elder Jensen, whom she had, of course, encountered more or less on a daily basis over the past two years at Esper Mansion. Though Elder Jensen was Lutz's Prolocutor, he did not spend all of his time in the Inner Sanctum; by the very definition of his job, it was required that he be a part of everyday Esper society, acting as Lutz's speaker. Kyra gave Elder Jensen a small smile as she glanced his way. The in-joke the two of them shared, about how Elder Jensen's long gray beard obviously must be a fake because he can't have hair on his face but not his head, came to mind, but Kyra wasn't exactly in the mood for joking right now, as her eyes landed on the man Elder Jensen spoke with.
"Hello, Rune," she greeted.
"Hello, Kyra," he acknowledged her. "It's been a long time."
"Two years," she agreed. He hadn't changed much. His hair was still tied back in a ponytail, but it appeared to be a lighter blue than it had been before. But where his hair was lighter, his skin appeared to be slightly darker. He also still wore robes of green and white similar to the ones he had worn two years ago, if not the same ones.
"You've grown your hair long," he observed. "It looks nice that way."
Kyra blinked. "Yes. Thank you."
"Thank you for joining us today, Miss Tierney," Elder Jensen smiled to her. She smiled back to him, then the Elder motioned them all towards the nearby chairs and sofa. "Let us all have a seat, shall we?"
Rune and Elder Jensen took up position on the sofa, while Kyra was ushered by a wave of Rune's hand towards a chair positioned near Rune's seat. Kyra would have preferred the seat on the other side, closer to Elder Jensen, but as it was, she did not want to appear rude. And it was only, after all, a preference.
Elder Jensen poured tea. Rune brought his cup to his lips and sipped, keeping his eyes on Kyra over his teacup the entire time. Kyra did not flinch from his stare, and only broke it to reach for her own teacup, which she did not keep on its saucer but rather in her hands, before her.
"So," Kyra broke the silence, "what brings you back to the mansion?"
Rune smiled. Kyra knew he was smiling at her directness. He enjoyed it, Kyra knew he did. The arrogant Rune Walsh was used to being blunt and off-putting to others; someone who challenged his demeanor with more of the same was someone Rune respected.
"Three reasons," Rune answered slowly. "The first is that today, of course, is the Day of Awakening. I know the day is still considered a holiday, but tell me, are they still teaching young Espers of the holiday's origin?"
"The Day of Awakening was celebrated during the time Lutz was cold-sleeping for ten years at a time," Kyra said. "Today was the day he would awaken from his decade slumber. Eventually, after Lutz" -- she deliberately changed her tone just slightly -- "'became so powerful as to overcome mortality' and no longer required decades of cold-sleep, the Day of Awakening became simply an Esper holiday. But seeing as it arrives only once every ten years, it's still a pretty big one." She paused, then added dryly, with one raised eyebrow, "You've come back for the party?"
Rune's mouth did not so much as crack a smile. "No. The second reason I have returned is to discuss an important matter with Keven. Namely, who shall succeed him as Prolocutor."
Somewhat alarmed, Kyra's eyes shot towards Elder Jensen. "You're not... leaving, are you, Elder?"
"Not today or tomorrow," Elder Jensen replied slowly. "But though some things do last forever in Algo, Miss Tierney, I am not one of them. If I am to train my successor, I should start now."
Kyra wasn't dense. She understood what was going on right away. "You want me to be the next Prolocutor?"
"You're the best choice for the job, Kyra," Rune told her, his mouth a thin smile. "You're a strong, intelligent Esper. And besides," his smile widened, "the hard part, taking you downstairs and showing you the Telepathy Ball, is already over."
"This is a tremendous honor, Miss Tierney," Elder Jensen added. She could tell by the smile on his face how happy he was to bestow this upon her, and she liked Elder Jensen, she really did. Which is why she said a silent apology to him for what she was going to say next, but regret it, she did not.
"I'm sorry," she said to the Elder, then with her eyes to Rune, "but I must turn down the offer."
The Elder's face was a mask of shock. Rune's simply became devoid of emotion. "May I ask why, Kyra?" he asked, and since he asked, she looked him right in the eye and answered.
"I can't be Lutz's Prolocutor because you're not Lutz."
"Miss Tierney!" Elder Jensen snapped. Without looking towards him, Rune held a hand up to the Elder, silencing his rebuke. Rune's eyes never left Kyra's. And as she started to get her feelings off her chest, she realized how good it felt to do so; how therapeutic it was to do so. In no way did she consider her life a ruin since that day in this Inner Sanctum two years before, but she definitely considered herself changed. Her entire belief system had collapsed that day, and the man she held responsible was right there before her, asking her why she did not want to serve as the mouthpiece for his lies.
She did not hate Rune. But she had to tell him how she felt.
"You may possess his memories," Kyra continued, "but that doesn't make you him. And I think the lie you perpetuate is terrible." She bit the inside of her lip for a moment, not wanting any tears to escape her eyes. There was a lot of emotion in her words. Kyra Loisa Tierney was never the type to "kind of" think something, or "sort of" believe in something else. When she had an opinion, it might as well have been made of stone. And no rebuke from Elder Jensen could chip at the granite of her belief that the lie Rune Walsh perpetuates was wrong. "Everything I did, I did because I aspired to be like Lutz, because I believed that he lived in this building, two thousand years old and not looking a day over thirty, and that I could be strong because he was strong, and... And it was all a lie!"
"Not so," Rune replied, his face still deadpan, concentrating on her own. "Not as much as you'd think."
"It is!" Kyra insisted. "If it isn't, then go to the mansion's assembly hall and reveal the truth once and for all, to everyone! But you won't, because you want to protect the lie!"
"If I reveal to the mansion at large what I revealed to you two years ago," Rune began calmly, "they won't see the truth. All they'll see is an Esper who left the mansion and his people long ago, a prodigal son come home to say that their beloved leader is not with them today, but that he died a millennium ago. I will not tell our people that, Kyra."
"But it's the truth!" she argued passionately. "Don't our people deserve the truth?"
Rune continued to look her directly in the eye. He nodded. "Yes, they do."
Before Kyra could find the words of response -- she knew the words "circular logic" were in there somewhere, as well as "self-contradiction," but that was about all she could fathom at the moment -- Rune turned to Elder Jensen and said, "May I have the key to the sanctuary?"
Kyra noticed a slight pause before Elder Jensen responded. "Of course, most reverent," he finally said, nodding and pulling a small, golden key from a pocket in his robes. Rune placed the key in his own pocket, then stood.
"Will you walk with me, Kyra?" he asked her.
She stood to meet him face to face. She was calm again -- or at least trying to be. "I've already given my answer."
"I understand," he nodded. "But I'd like to share with you a story, from my memories of Lutz. Not of Kyle Moonseer, not of Samuel Hirom, not of Eli Cardin, and not of Rune Walsh, but Lutz. The first Lutz. Will you permit me?"
Kyra nodded immediately. Though she no longer believed that Lutz was still alive and living an immortal life deep within Esper Mansion, she still admired Lutz and all he stood for, all he did. If there was one thing she was seeking in her current life, it was truth. Rune may not be Lutz, she thought to herself, but he does possess his memories. Any stories he could tell would certainly be true.
He waved her towards the door. "We will be back later, Keven," he called over his shoulder to the Elder. "Keep the tea warm for us."
"Yes, most reverent," Elder Jensen replied. Kyra flashed him a goodbye smile, then left the sitting room with Rune. When they reached the antechamber, Rune held the Inner Sanctum's door for her, then followed her out into the snowy Esper Mansion courtyard in which the Inner Sanctum rested.
They walked, side by side, towards the doorway that led back into the mansion proper. Kyra saw Rune glancing around the courtyard, no doubt looking at the many decorations up for the Day of Awakening celebrations. "The Day of Awakening has always been a special day," Rune observed, "especially back when it truly was the day of Lutz's awakening after ten years of cold sleep. For the Half-Espers it--"
"Half-Espers?" Kyra interrupted him. "The Espers who had lost their powers? The ones whose power Lutz later restored?"
"Yes. During most of Lutz's life, the Half-Espers were without their powers, and that was the main reason Lutz was cold sleeping for ten years at a time. He didn't know if he'd be able to restore the Half-Espers' telemental powers within his natural lifetime, but he had to make sure at least one Esper was alive when Dark Force would return again. So, that is why he used his cryogenic chamber."
"And the Half-Espers lost their power when Lutz rebuilt Esper Mansion, after the Dezorians attacked it," Kyra nodded. "The legends say it was the most powerful act of magic Algo had ever seen. Did Lutz see it that way when he did it?"
"Lutz saw it that way when it happened," Rune nodded, "but it wasn't Lutz who did it. It was Lutz's mentor, Master Noah. The Esper who fought beside Queen Alis Landale."
"What?" Kyra stuttered. "Wh--?"
Rune looked at her with a sly grin. "It is truth you seek, isn't it, Kyra?" She only stared back at him, open mouthed. "The fact is, through the centuries, when Lutz's memories started being transferred via the Telepathy Ball and he was no longer seen by most Espers, our people started exaggerating the feats of their beloved leader. Noah was remembered as the man who trained Lutz, but it was much more dramatic and made Lutz that much more mythological, to attribute Noah's heroic feats to Lutz."
Kyra looked forward, her jaw clamped tight. Another lie. "And both you and your predecessors have done nothing to bring out the truth."
"Not yet," Rune admitted, "though it is something Keven and I have discussed a great deal. This year marks the two-thousandth anniversary of Queen Alis's quest, and the year after next will mark the two-thousandth anniversary of the mansion's original construction. It is time that Master Noah once again receives the credit he deserves, and Keven and I plan to see that that happens in the next year."
They were almost to the door leading back to the mansion when Rune suddenly turned left, on a path to circle the courtyard rather than head inside. Kyra shrugged and followed.
"But back to the Day of Awakening," Rune continued. "For the Half-Espers, it was always special because it was the first time in ten years that Lutz would be awake to walk amongst them, to talk to them, to offer them guidance and assistance. And for Lutz, it was always a special day because it meant it was time to catch up. When he had gone to sleep, he had just been training teenagers. Now, awaking ten years later, he was being introduced to their infant children. Before sleeping, he had said good-night to Espers with bright blue hair, and when awaking, those same Espers had streaks of gray throughout."
Kyra smiled. "Was it hard for him to adjust to that?" she asked.
"For the first few awakenings, yes," Rune answered. "For example, the first time Lutz went to sleep, when he was fifteen, he said good-night to his best friend Aric and a girl named Jain, amongst others. Aric and Jain thoroughly despised one another. But when he awoke five years later, Aric and Jain were lovers. When he awoke ten years after that, Aric and Jain were parents. And fifty years later, he awoke to meet Aric and Jain's grandchildren, but also... he awoke to find Aric and Jain had both passed away since he had last awakened."
Kyra swallowed. "That must have been hard for him," she realized. "Not even being able to say goodbye and all."
"Yes," Rune nodded. "But for every death Lutz learned of upon awakening, there was almost always a birth to learn of, as well. Some children Lutz first met as infants, others as nine year-olds. Meeting the new children was always, hands down, Lutz's favorite part of emerging from the cold-sleep chamber. And his secret wish was always that one time, he might awake in time to actually be present at the birth of a child, rather than learn about it upon awakening."
With a smile, Kyra looked over at Rune. "That's sweet," she offered. "Did he ever get to?"
"Oh yes," Rune nodded. Something about his voice made Kyra again look over at him, and she saw that Rune's eyes had taken on a distant look, as if he were not really seeing with them. He stopped walking and looked first at the mansion, and the Day of Awakening streamers spread across it, then at the Dezorian sky above. He paused for a long moment, then continued, his voice much softer than before, "It took over six centuries, but finally, Lutz awakened from cold-sleep in time to actually witness the birth of a child at Esper Mansion."
Kyra was still puzzled at the distance Rune had suddenly taken, but she still managed another smile. "Was it a boy or a girl?"
Rune remained silent for another long moment before speaking. "They didn't know, Kyra," he said, resuming his pace around the courtyard, with Kyra by his side. "The parents wanted to be surprised. And so when Lutz was greeted as he awakened from cold-sleep -- that year it was by a smart young Esper named Symon -- he immediately was led up to the mansion's main chamber, where most of the Espers had gathered to wait for the news."
"How soon is the child expected?" Lutz asked the assembled Espers, his eyes wide with excitement. Usually, he was a bit groggy after awakening from cold sleep, but upon hearing that this may finally be the Awakening in which he witnesses the birth of a new Esper, the adrenaline started flowing quickly, and Lutz soon found himself wide awake.
"It could be anytime now," Symon told him. "Armin and Nana have been in the infirmary for hours now."
"Nana is in labor now?" Lutz asked. Symon had not been that specific when he had been awakened; he had simply said this time may be the time.
"Yes!" several of the gathered Espers replied, in unison, and with that, Lutz was off, heading towards the east stairway at a flat-out run. Symon and a couple others followed after him, but the excitement in Lutz's veins was the fuel the others simply could not have. For six centuries, he had awakened to meet new children in Esper Mansion. But on this, his sixty-first Day of Awakening, he was finally going to be present for the birth of a child.
Lutz hit the stairs, raised his leg to step on the first one, and realized too late that his leg was not responding. He tripped, falling forward into the stairs before him. The assembled Espers behind him gasped, and loyal Symon was quickly at his side, helping Lutz to his feet. "Master, please!" Symon exclaimed. "Your muscles are still weak. Please, we will get you to the infirmary immediately, but please--"
In mid-sentence, Lutz rose into the air. If his muscles were still weak from the past ten years of cold sleep, then his mind was not, and so he relied on his telemental muscles rather than his physical ones to get him to the birth. Symon and the others tried in vain to keep up with him, but they were powerless, and he was not. He floated ahead of them, quickly gaining ground.
If they could see the huge smile on his face, they barely would have recognized their leader. It wasn't that Lutz was not a happy man, he was simply a reserved man, a man who carefully guarded his emotions. For him to unrestrain his happiness and wear it as on his sleeve as he did now was quite a statement as to the extent of his happiness. On his twenty-seventh awakening, he had met a child who had been born three days earlier, but that was the closest he had ever come to being there for a new Esper's birth. Now, as he floated down the second floor hallway towards the mansion's infirmary, he was closer to this dream of his than ever before.
And then he felt it.
Reaching out with his mind, he touched the baby's infant mind. The child was scared; the birth process had begun, and the young offspring did not know what was going on. It was an experience unlike any other in his six-hundred thirty year life. The infant's mind was so fragile, so... pure. Despite the fear in the child, it was one of the most beautiful experiences Lutz had ever had. And minutes before Armin and Nana knew, Lutz knew their child was a daughter.
Lutz came to a stop in the hall outside the infirmary door. Symon and the other Espers who followed came barreling up the stairs at the end of the hall, but Lutz motioned for them to remain quiet, and they softly stepped down the hall to join him.
"It's a girl," he whispered to them. "And she's with us... now."
As if the girl had received a cue directly from Lutz, a shrill crying broke out behind the infirmary doorway. Lutz and his entourage waited a few minutes -- ten, at most -- but to Lutz, it might as well have been a cold sleep session it took so long. Finally, at last, the infirmary door opened, and the mansion's current doctor, Danel, allowed the group inside.
From across the room, Armin and Nana, the proud parents, smiled at their leader. Armin stood to greet him. "Reverent Lutz," he bowed, then, leaning over his wife to take their child into his arms, he stepped towards Lutz. "This is our daughter, Andrea."
Armin offered Lutz the chance to hold the child, who had stopped crying and who now had her eyes closed, thumb in her mouth. Lutz readily accepted, smiling down at the child. "Andrea..." Lutz repeated. "It's a beautiful name for a beautiful child."
"Did Lutz ever manage to be awake for any other births?" Kyra asked Rune as he paused, apparently finished with his story.
"Sure," Rune nodded, "a couple others. Once a mother went into labor the day Lutz was to go back into cold-sleep hibernation. He delayed his bedtime by a day to be there for it." A pause, then, softer, "But Andrea was the first, and Lutz doesn't think she would have had it any other way. She always had to be in the spotlight, always had to do something special."
The two of them were outside the mansion now and walking towards the patch of dense forest behind it. It made her remember the last time she was with Rune near a forest; last time, it had been the Carnivorous Forest that had surrounded the demonic Garuberk Tower. Rune had helped to save her from being eaten by the trees. She grimaced as she remembered proudly declaring to him and Chaz Ashley and the others that they should go to Esper Mansion to seek counsel from Lutz, the two-thousand year old Esper leader whom she had every reason in the world to believe was alive and well.
Was that what disturbed her so much about the lie? The embarrassment she'd felt upon learning the truth? The humiliation from finding that her entire belief system revolved around a sham? Or was it that in her heart, she knew someday the genie would escape from the bottle, and she feared what the humiliation would do to the Esper populace at large?
It could destroy our entire society, Kyra thought, glancing at Rune, trying to keep mental shields around her mind to keep him from reading it, and half-hoping the thought would slip through anyway. And they'll look at me as an accessory to this con of yours, Rune Walsh.
Still walking, his eyes focused on the snow beneath them, Rune said, "I sense your anger. You must put it aside, Kyra. You have judged me guilty of a crime I did not commit. I did not cause your pain; you've brought it on yourself."
Kyra bit her lip hard and shook her head slowly. She said each word of her next sentence slowly and deliberately. "You arrogant bastard."
That got Rune's attention. He stopped walking, his eyes locking with Kyra's. She felt a wave of guilty pleasure as she saw in his eyes and in his mind that her words truly had stung. "Rune, I'm not out here for a debate," Kyra told him firmly, "and I'm certainly not out here to be told how I feel. I'm here to listen to a story. If we're finished..."
It took a few more moments, but incredibly, even after being as stung as Kyra knew he had been by the words, Rune started to smile. "I think if Lutz were here, he would say that in some ways, you are very much like Andrea, Kyra. Neither one of you had any patience for small talk."
"She was only fifteen years old!" Lutz emphasized to the children assembled before him. "That is not much older than most of you! In fact, Noelle, your brother is older than Alis was at the time!"
The children oooed and aaahed at that one, just as they always had, and as they probably always would. Lutz loved doing this. He was only awake for a couple months at a time, and most of that time was taken up by in-depth research into curing the Half-Espers condition, but he always made sure he took the time to stop by the mansion's school to take part in each education segment's classes.
Today he was speaking to segments four and five. By this time, they had already been taught their history lessons regarding the evil Lassic and Queen Landale I, so Lutz gave them something of a more personal take on the matter. He told them his stories were based on conversations he had had with his Master Noah, which was true, but he left out that much of it also came from conversations with Alis herself, down in the bowels of the mansion where he kept the sacred sword.
"But she never gave up; that's what is important to remember, children," Lutz continued. "Alis's greatest trait was her fierce determination. In whatever you do, if ever you think of giving up, remember the story of Queen Alis, and ask yourself--"
"Why do you sleep for so long?" came a voice from the back of the group of children. Lutz didn't recognize the voice, so he searched for the mind...
"Andrea!" snapped Anne, this segment's schoolmaster. "Master Lutz is speaking!"
"I know," the ten year old girl replied, "that's why I'm asking him a question. Why do you sleep for so long? My parents told me I'd just been born the last time you were awake."
"Please forgive her, Master Lutz," schoolmaster Anne said, bolting across the room towards Andrea. "Miss Larson must not have been paying attention for the last three months during our daily discussions about Master Lutz's awakening."
"I heard all about it," Andrea corrected. "I just don't understand why."
Through it all so far, Lutz never took his eyes off of Andrea's. Thanks mostly to his aura, his stare was intimidating, so intimidating that most Esper adults would buckle under it. But ten year old Andrea Larson just stared back at him, waiting for an answer.
"Andrea," Lutz began, "it is impolite to interrupt others, especially your elders."
"Do you sleep with a teddy bear?" another student suddenly blurted out.
Lutz's stare was broken; looking away from Andrea, he looked to the other child and said, "Excuse me?"
"Do you have any pets?" a girl in the middle of the group asked.
"Who feeds them when you're asleep for so long?" a boy wanted to know.
"I bet your mom makes you brush your teeth ten times before you go to bed!"
"Children!" schoolmaster Anne shouted. "We are here to listen to Master Lutz! We are not here to interrogate him!"
But it was a lost cause. The class had disintegrated into a chorus of questions, with the children offering possible answers for him and asking new questions before he could even sort out the old ones. It was a scene Lutz was not used to. He was absolutely not used to forcing others to pay attention to him. He was used to obedience, and instant respect.
And before Andrea Larson had demanded to know why, he'd gotten it.
He looked across the class of children, rapidly losing his patience, and his eyes locked on Andrea's. She was sitting in silence, the one child in the class still doing so, and Lutz immediately knew why. She was waiting for her answer.
Approximately two seconds before Lutz stood up and shouted for attention and changed the topic of his lecture from The Real Queen Alis Landale to Respect For Your Elders 101, he clearly saw and heard Andrea Larson say, "Do you just have a really comfortable bed, or what?"
"Why was he so angry?" Kyra asked, her voice peppered with chuckles. "It sounds like they were just being kids."
"But Lutz was not used to that," Rune explained, moving a branch from a nearby tree out of the way with his mind as he and Kyra continued along the forest path. "He was used to the classes of children sitting in awed silence, enthralled by his every word, too awestruck to ask questions even during question and answer time. Their parents, basically, had come to believe that they were not equals to Lutz, that Lutz was their glorious leader, and they taught their children this, as well. And Lutz had come to expect this behavior." He grinned, looked at Kyra. "You might have called him an arrogant bastard."
She didn't want to go back to that part of the conversation. "But Andrea didn't," she said instead.
"No," Rune shook his head. "Andrea Larson did not. Lutz realized in that classroom that day, that Andrea saw Lutz as her equal, not as her 'glorious leader.' And her interruption demonstrated that to the entire class. Those children were young, they just knew they were supposed to see Lutz as this... this high and mighty leader. They didn't know why. So when one of their own chose not to, they all followed. Decades down the road, though... Lutz knew most of them were extremely embarrassed they had acted that way towards Lutz."
Kyra knew what came next. She repeated, "But Andrea didn't."
"No," Rune said slowly and deliberately, sitting down on a nearby rock and motioning Kyra to another. "Andrea Larson did not. She angered Lutz that day in the classroom. What she did ten years later infuriated him."
"What did she do?" Kyra asked.
"She went to school."
Kyra blinked. "She went to school. And that infuriated Lutz?"
"Yes," Rune nodded. "In the era when the Esper Mansion was surrounded by a force field to prevent teleportation to the Alplatin Plateau by all means except the strongest of magic, in the era when the Crevice was the only way to or from the plateau, in the era when Lutz still feared for Esper society's safety, Andrea went to school... on Palma."
Oh, the greatest, my one and only ultimate god, Dark Force!
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