Chapter Nine

Commander Rudolf Steiner was in his office, located on the highest floor of Paseo's Central Tower. The big man sat in a big chair as he hunched over his big desk to look into the small camera unit on his visiphone. "Yes, I heard about it this morning," he addressed Bishop Jut on the other end of the connection. "Apparently, it is an attempt by the citizens of the village Tyler to woo the man Tyler into being their Village Chief. I suppose they think that since he loves his ship so much, he'll love a spaceport to house it in just as much."

"The villagers wouldn't tell me that," Jut smiled, speaking in a low conspiratorial tone, "but I suspected as much. That's not why I've called you, though, Rudo. I've called because I'm, err... concerned."

Rudo's brow furrowed. "What's wrong, Jut?" he asked carefully. It was no doubt "concern" on the part of the Dezorian leaders at the time that lead to the unprovoked attack on Skure one-thousand one years earlier, during the Great War. Rudo licked his lips and then added, "Do you want me to ask my people to halt their plans?"

Jut's big black eyes got even bigger. He stared, open-mouthed, at Rudo as if the big man had just cursed the Dezorian people. "Heavens, no!" the bishop replied. "No, as long as their village is on my planet, they are citizens of Dezo, and they are welcome to all of the privileges any Dezorian would enjoy, including the right to build a spaceport when and where they wish. My concern, however, is the blueprint they are using for this... spaceport."

"I guess I haven't heard that part of the story," Rudo admitted aloud as he breathed a sigh of relief within. "What's wrong with it? Is it too large?"

"The size is fine," Jut answered. "It's the fact that they're basing their spaceport on a similar one which was a part of the Myntax power facility on Palm that has aroused my anxiety."

"That design would make sense," Rudo nodded to himself. "Myntax was Palm's equivalent of Mota's Nurvus, and Nurvus's spaceport is the only one left in Algo now, so having their new one designed similarly would seem to be..." He drifted off, then again nodded, but this time to the screen. "It would be a smart move, but still, I think I see where you're going with this, Jut."

"Mother Brain designed Myntax and Nurvus," Jut responded, "and so she also designed their spaceports. Now, if the citizens of Tyler are using those designs... Rudo, you don't think there's any kind of... secrets stored away in there... do you?"

This is going to be Mother Brain's legacy for a long time, Rudo sighed internally. Rampant paranoia. "I understand your concern, Jut," Rudo answered sincerely. "I think I'd share it if I were in your shoes. In all honesty, I don't think you have a thing to worry about. However, if it will make you more comfortable, I'll send a couple of Agents skilled in technology over to Nurvus to check out that spaceport, just to make sure, and then I'll send them to Tyler in the Paseo to check out that one, once it's done, as well."

Jut sighed and smiled. "I would appreciate that, Rudo. And I'm sorry to cause you trouble, but... I'm afraid I am highly protective of Dezo." Jut's smile quickly became a chuckle. "Rather, I'm over-protective of it!"

Before Rudo could respond, the door to his office suddenly swung open. Because anyone else would announce themselves first, before he even looked up, Rudo knew it would be his wife. However, when he did avert his e yes to his doorway, he saw Anna (with a look on her face he did not like at all) along with Sawa.

"What--" he started to ask. His wife interrupted.

"The Machine Center is under attack," she announced. "By monsters."

Underneath his desk, Rudo's hand immediately dropped to his holstered sonic gun as his eyes turned to his visiphone. "Bishop, I'm afraid I'm going to have to cut this short," he apologized.

Jut held up a hand. "I heard, and I understand," he said. "The flame shall watch over you, my friend."

"You, too," Rudo responded, because he didn't really know what else to say. Jut closed the channel, and then Rudo turned off his visiphone, standing from his desk. "Rolf said this wasn't over," he told Anna and Sawa as he walked across the room towards them. "It appears he was right."

"Yeah, well no offense to Rolf," Anna grumbled as the three of them left the office and half-ran half-walked their way towards the Tower's teleport center, "but I'm beginning to really hate it when he's right."

"What are we dealing with?" Rudo wanted to know.

"Before communication with the Machine Center was lost," Sawa started, "they reported a large being in red robes."

"Red robes?" Rudo repeated. "Does he--"

His wife again cut him off. "Yeah. We think this is the same creep that got Hugh nine months ago."

Sawa anticipated the next question and answered it as they rounded a corner and stepped towards a transtube. "Birth Valley has been notified."

"Then let's get to the Machine Center," Rudo said, "and if this is the same guy, then let's teach him not to mess with one of our own ever again."

- - - - - - - - - -

The Xe-A-Thoul named Xarxas paced amongst a pile of fallen Agents and Army soldiers, all of whom littered the hallway around the huge metal door that led to the Machine Center's heavy weaponry storeroom and vault. As he walked back and forth, he laughed, and occasionally, he paused to kick one of the unconscious defenders of the Machine Center. "All of you rodents will fall," he gloated. "You will never be able to overcome the power of Lassic!"

Soon, his arrogance turned to annoyance. He turned towards the heavy vault door and demanded, "What is taking so long?"

Standing at the door were three mesomen: humanoid creatures, about four feet tall, with light blue skin and skull-like faces on their heads, which hunched beneath high shoulders. They wore red pants tied at the waist below bare chests which practically burst open with muscles. "Door... heavy..." one of the mesomen replied to Xarxas. After answering, the three of them resumed their attempt to rip the vault door off of its hinges.

Xarxas sighed in exasperation. "Stand back!" he barked, and the three mesomen at the door, along with five others, moved behind the Xe-A-Thoul. Once the small but strong monsters were clear, Xarxas raised his bony, white hand and released a massive volley of energy at the door. Upon striking its target, the energy exploded, and the hallway was bathed in smoke and flame.

After a few moments it cleared, and when it did, the eight mesomen slowly climbed back to their feet. Xarxas, however, was not knocked down, and with a grin on his face, he approached the hole in the wall -- surrounded by twisted, hot metal -- where the vault door had been a moment earlier.

"Inside!" Xarxas ordered the mesomen. "Find the king's energy disrupter. Time is of the essence. Move!"

The mesomen obeyed, and they walked (for the mesomen, "hobbled" might have been a better word) through the smoking hole and into one of the Machine Center's massive storerooms, where they all quickly separated down different aisles of stored machinery in search of the EX-17.

Xarxas followed them in, but he stopped once he was approximately ten feet into the room, where he stood in a large "alleyway" which ran down the middle of the storeroom, separating the racks of shelves into two sides. "You all know what the EX-17 looks like," he called out to the mesomen. "And you also all know how pleased his majesty will be with the one who finds it. Quickly, now--"

He stopped his words short as before him, the air hummed for a split second before three individuals magically (or rather, technologically) appeared. The first was a tall blonde man, who carried big muscles and a big gun. To his right was a blonde woman, and to his left was a native Motavian dressed in an Agent's uniform like Rolf's.

"More bugs to stomp!" Xarxas shouted in glee, raising his hand to fire off another volley of energy.

Just as he did so, the male Palman shouted, "Get down!" His volley was launched just after the two Palmans dived off to their right, hiding behind one row of shelves, and the Motavian hurled himself to his left, hiding behind another. Xarxas's energy blast hit the wall behind where they had just been standing and punched a hole in it the size of one of the mesomen.

"Yes, run!" Xarxas shouted, a wide smile across his face. "Hide from me, for you can not defeat me! You can not overcome the power--"

If the Xe-A-Thoul had not been so busy gloating, he might have heard the second teleport beam, this one from behind him. Instead, all he heard was the pumping of a shotgun-type energy weapon, as well as a voice that called out, "Hey! Ugly!"

Xarxas spun on his heels and saw, just inside the storeroom, the purple-haired Palman who had shot at him nine months earlier in Birth Valley. He also started to notice that the Palman had a brown-haired companion who carried a staff, but before he could fully take this information in--

Purple Hair fired his gun, and Xarxas took the blast right in his chest.

The blast knocked the big Xe-A-Thoul off of his feet, and he flew backwards through the air towards the wall he had just blown a hole into. His back smacked into the wall in question hard before his head did the same, and the world around Xarxas instantly blanked out into nothingness.

- - - - - - - - - -

From his hiding place with Anna behind a row of shelves, Rudo heard Kain shout at the big red monster, heard the blast of Kain's weapon, and then saw the monster fly backwards and crash into the wall.

"That was for Hugh, you ugly little witch!" Kain screamed at the top of his lungs. Taking this as their cue that everything was clear -- for the moment -- Rudo and Anna quickly climbed to their feet, and when they e merged into the main alleyway of the storeroom (along with Sawa, from the other side), they were just in time to greet Kain and Kip, as well as to stop Kain from firing again at the (apparently unconscious) monster.

"Wrecker, wait!" Anna called out. "Save your ammo. We don't think he's alone!"

Anna's warning came just in time. Right after it had left her lips, a mesoman jumped from the top of one of the supply racks, heading straight towards Kain and Kip.

The Guardian leader was the first to leap into action. His staff was already in his hand, and so as he watched the mesoman approach, he spun it around to get a better grip and then, as the mesoman was upon him, he swung it around in an arc. It connected with the creature's chest, throwing off its landing and knocking it against the wall next to where the vault door had been.

And Kip wasn't finished, either. Before the mesoman could figure out what had happened, Kip charged it and delivered a jump kick to its face, just as it was starting back to its feet. Three more blows from his staff -- one to the chest, one to the groin, and one to the face -- and the mesoman collapsed into a heap.

By this time, however, more of the light blue-skinned creatures had made their way to where Rudo and the others had convened, and as the mesomen had moved in too close and too fast for the party to attack them with energy weapons, the group fought hand-to-hand.

Kain swung around the butt of his shotgun just once. It was enough to crack open the skull of the mesoman that attacked him. Sawa had pulled his battle axe out of its holster on his back, and he drove its blade deep into the gut of a mesoman before withdrawing it and bringing it down on top of the mesoman's head. The resulting site was not pretty.

Meanwhile, Anna had drawn her whip from her belt, and she used it to give the mesoman that attacked her several large welts across his chest. Ready to go in for the kill, she wrapped it around the creature's wrist, pulled his arm out of the way, and then leaped into the air to deliver a snap kick to her attacker's throat. With the mesoman's windpipe smashed shut, it quickly died of asphyxiation and fell to the floor.

Finally, Rudo took his hands off of his gun, letting it hang on his shoulders by its attached strap, and quickly raised his fists to a ready position as the fifth mesoman charged for him. He slammed his right into the middle of the monster's face and quickly followed that up with a body blow from his left. The big man then took a step backward and kicked the mesoman in the gut, knocking it back towards a shelf. Rudo quickly charged back towards the monster, used his hand to cover its face, and then drove the back of its skull into the metal of the shelf. It fell dead at his feet.

That's when the group heard a voice from behind them. "My, what a wonderful display of brute force and flying fists."

With the attacking mesomen defeated, Rudo, Anna, Sawa, Kain, and Kip all turned to face the wall where the red-robed monster Kain had shot lay still... except now, the wounded fiend was being held up by another identical red-robed creature, and three more mesomen were handing this new monster a large device that looked like a gun. "Unfortunately," the healthy red demon continued, "you have proven that you are all brawn and no brains, for while you were busy with those meso men, these others have retrieved the EX-17."

"It doesn't take much in the way of brains," Kain began, "to blow your butt to kingdom come!" With that, the Wrecker-turned-Mechanic raised his shotgun to fire, but the new demon raised the EX-17 (which it held with the arm that was not holding up its wounded counterpart) and fired first. Kain's energy blast emerged from his shotgun, traveled a few meters, and then, under a wave of humming energy from the EX-17, it simply disappeared.

"Your energy weapons are now worthless!" the red demon gloated, and then, a third red demon emerged from behind a row of shelves and stepped forward towards his companions. Meanwhile, this third monster raised his h and, and before him, next to the three mesomen and his two companions, a large, swirling, black portal opened.

Rudo knew they were about to escape, and so, with his own gun now as useless as Kain's, he began to charge them. Before he could get very far, however, he heard Anna grunt behind him, and then saw one of her slashers flying through the air towards the demon that held the EX-17.

Anna's slasher cut deeply into its hand, and it dropped the EX-17 with a yelp of pain as Anna's weapon returned towards her hand. Rudo altered his course just slightly and extended his arms towards the EX-17, which was still several feet away, but before he could reach it, the third demon scooped it up off the ground, and in one fluid motion, the monster swung the heavy weapon around, knocking it into the side of Rudo's head.

The Commander of Mota went down, and as Anna and Sawa ran towards him, Kip and Kain pounced and ran for the monsters. When they were still at least ten feet away, the third demon stepped into the portal, with the EX-17, and disappeared. A moment later, the second monster followed, along with the unconscious one. Finally, when Kip and Kain were still several feet away, the three remaining mesomen vanished, as well, and behind them, before Kip and Kain could pursue, their magical portal closed.

"Damn it!" Kain shouted in frustration, throwing his (now useless) shotgun to the floor.

Kip, on the other hand, quickly shifted gears and stepped towards Anna and Sawa, who both kneeled above Rudo. "Boss?" he asked Anna hesitantly.

Before giving his wife a chance to answer, Rudo sat up, though the quick move obviously brought him massive pain. "I'm all right," he half-lied. "Are there any more of them in the Machine Center?"

Sawa listened for a moment to a radio earpiece before shaking his head. "No, Commander. It would appear the group we encountered were the only invaders."

"Rudo," Kain began, "it was one of those big ugly red things that broke into Birth Valley nine months ago. I'm sure of that. One of those things was the monster that damn near crippled Hugh."

"I didn't see Nei's claws," Anna said to her husband, "but I'm willing to bet they're behind the break-in at Rolf's place, too, as well as the death of that Musk Cat, and the attack on Rolf at Nei's grave two days ago."

"Rolf was definitely right that something big is happening," Rudo nodded as his friends helped him to his feet. "And now, we have some suspects. Let's head back to the Central Tower. I need to contact Rolf at Esper Mansion immediately."

"Sir, with all due respect, you should see a doctor," Sawa protested. "You might have a concussion."

"Fine," Rudo agreed. "You can send one to my office. But I'm not doing another thing until I tell Rolf what's happened here. Maybe he and Lutz have some answers as to who the hell those red-robed monsters are."

"And better yet," Anna threw in, "what they're going to do next."

- - - - - - - - - -

Shir finally caught enough breath to say, "Oh Lance," before she went off on another chain of laughs and giggles. Sitting at her bedside, her husband just smiled and shrugged both at her and at Rolf, who watched the whole scene from amused eyes, with his arms folded across his chest. "Oh Lance," Shir repeated, "Lance, it was hilarious!"

The former Agent cleared his throat. "I'm not sure it was all that funny, actually," he told Shir, but his childhood best friend disagreed.

"Yes it was," she responded. "You were so busy staring open-mouthed at Katy Femlin in her corner booth that you tripped over your own feet and fell to the floor. Your face even landed," she continued, as more giggles started to erupt, "right in your burger, and your cola splashed all over your hair!"

Rolf shook his head and glanced in Lance's direction. He saw that Shir's husband was now laughing almost as much as she was. "Is she serious, Rolf?" he asked. "Your face landed right in your burger?"

"She's serious," Rolf agreed, and though he tried to stay serious himself, he couldn't help but smile slightly at the memory. "In fact, the top bun flew off, and so when I looked up--"

The pregnant thief cut him off to shout, "Your pickle was sticking to your nose!" Her hands flew to her abdomen as it started to heave with more deep laughs. "I remember that now!"

"So what happened between you and young Katy?" Lance wanted to know. "Did she go to the dance with you after all?"

"Turned me down flat," Rolf reported, though the smile on his face showed that the trauma of the incident had long since faded. "Broke my heart in two. Katy Femlin..." Rolf sighed, before adding wistfully, "Where are you now?"

"Oh!" Shir started, sitting up in her bed. "And then there's the time--"

It was Rolf's turn to interrupt. "Has Lance ever heard the story about the pool party the year we were in the final education segment?"

The words brought a massive change in Shir. She stared at her friend with wide eyes and said, "You wouldn't."

"I would," Rolf rebutted from his mischievous smile.

Shir leaned back. "I'll shut up now," she said. A moment later, she punctuated the remark by shooting Rolf a sly smile, which the two friends quickly turned into a laugh.

"I must admit," Lance said, "that these stories about 'normal' teen life are quite entertaining to a guy who spent his whole life here in this one building. Our teachers were mainly our parents, and our classrooms doubled as our kitchens."

Sensing a way to reach a subject Rolf wanted to address, he said to Lance, "Your family has been here a long time, huh?"

"Since the beginning," Lance nodded. "My parents, their parents, their parents, and their parents, and beyond -- Lutz knew them all as infants, adolescents, adults, and seniors."

"Really," Rolf nodded. "So how far back can you trace your family's history? Say, on your father's side."

"Well," Lance began with a shrug, "my father is Romin Moonseer, and his dad was named Kinl Moonseer. Before that came Coy Moonseer, Benik Moonseer--"

"Wait," Rolf interrupted. "Do you have any ancestors named Kyle Moonseer? That name sounds awfully familiar."

The Esper thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No, no Kyles in my family as far as I know."

"What about on your mother's side?" Rolf asked. "Was your great-great grandfather on your mother's side named Kyle?"

Rolf saw Lance's face take on a puzzled look. "No, his name was Zeote. Rolf, what's this all about?"

"Just wondering," Rolf shrugged. "I just could have sworn I heard the name Kyle Moonseer somewhere, and since you and Shir are the only Moonseers I know..." He finished his sentence with another shrug.

Next to him, in her bed, Shir nodded slowly. "Kyle Moonseer," she repeated. "That does have a certain ring to it."

However, Rolf did not hear Shir's words, nor did he hear Lance's response. Instead he heard a summons from Lutz, in his head. [Come to the visiphone room,] was the message. Those were all the words it contained, but the emotions behind them were what really troubled Rolf. He sensed the same anxiety he had seen in Lutz earlier, only more so. And now... he sensed foreboding, and yes -- he even felt a little fear.

Rolf stood and quietly said, "Excuse me," dismissing himself from the clinic. If he had turned around, he would have seen Shir watch him go with a concerned look in his eyes, but turn around he did not do. Instead, he quickly walked from the room, closed the door behind him, and strode towards the mansion's visiphone.

- - - - - - - - - -

Monsters in red robes. The same being who attacked Hugh, along with two twin brothers.

They now had an EX-17 energy disrupter.

"So what does it mean, Lutz? Rudo wants some answers and frankly, so do I."

Rolf stood from the now dark and silent visiphone and turned to face Lutz, who stood across the room, staring towards the floor but into the distance, absently rubbing his chin as he pondered Rolf's question. "I can sense there's something you're concerned about," Rolf continued to the room's only other occupant, "so please fill me in. Who are these big creatures in the red robes, and why do they want an EX-17 energy disrupter?"

Lutz answered immediately, but he did not move from his pose. "I do not know who they are," he began, "and that is not a lie. As for what they plan to do with this energy disrupter, there is only one thing they could possibly be planning." A pause. Then, "They plan to destroy Esper Mansion's energy shield, invade our home, and take something. Two somethings, probably."

"Elsydeon?" Rolf asked.

The Espers' leader nodded. "And the Aero-Prism."

This was not what Rolf wanted to be hearing. He gulped, shoved his blue bangs away from his eyes, and began to pace the room. Meanwhile, Lutz continued to stand still, as if deep in thought. "So how do we stop them?" Algo's Protector asked after a few moments of silence.

"We don't," Lutz answered flatly. "If they channel their magic through the energy disrupter they stole, the mansion's protective barrier will shatter like glass."

"How do you know that?"

"Because Master Noah warned me it was going to happen, in my dream. It is inevitable. All we can do is defend the mansion."

Silence hung in the air for another several moments. His heart pounding against his chest, Rolf reached out and seized the back of the chair at the visiphone's desk, squeezing his fingers into its soft padding. Part of him wanted to lift it off the ground and throw it against the wall in frustration. In fact, it was the same part of him that wanted to spin on Lutz, grab him by the collar, and ask him how he could be so damned calm informing him that Esper Mansion was about to be attacked for the first time since the Dezorians burned it to the ground and massacred its inhabitants nine-hundred eighty-seven years earlier.

But control won out over frustration. Rolf took several deep breaths, released the chair, and then turned back to Lutz. "So be it. Do you want me to tell the others, or do you want to do it?"

"It is not that simple," Lutz replied, still rubbing his chin. He had to have sensed Rolf's near-outburst through their tight mental bond, but he said nothing. What's so damned important, Rolf wondered, that he can sit there and think about it while off-handedly telling me the mansion is about to be attacked? "During the raid that killed my foster parents and that indirectly killed Master Noah, Esper Mansion was the home of tens of highly-trained Espers, as well as numerous items blessed with Nei. Now, it is home only to Elsydeon, a single Nei item, and tens of completely inexperienced Espers who are not ready to defend themselves against this kind of assault."

"Don't forget," Rolf added, "the best Esper that ever lived and Algo's Protector are here as well, Lutz."

Lutz exhaled a deep sigh and said, "I'm afraid it still won't be enough." As if finally making a decision regarding the matter he had been considering ever since Rolf got off the visiphone with Rudo, Lutz's whole body sagged with another sigh, as the master Esper lowered his entire face into his hand, and not just his chin.

"What is it?" Rolf asked. As if the impending assault isn't enough.

"I swore I'd never bother him or his people," Lutz answered in a quiet grumble. "But I'm afraid I have no choice. If Esper Mansion is to be defended, we must have... the axe."

"The axe?" Rolf repeated. He shook his head, not understanding, and then, he all of a sudden knew what Lutz was talking about. "The axe," Rolf added softly. "The Laconian Axe Odin used over one-thousand years ago when he fought with Queen Landale."

With his face still in his hand, Lutz confirmed it. "That is the axe."

"Well where is it?" Rolf demanded. "Is it here, somewhere in the basement, with Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism?"

"It is not in my possession," Lutz said. "And I gave my word that I would never, ever bother its owner."

"Well under the circumstances, I'm sure he'll understand!" Rolf exclaimed. "Who has it?"

Rolf watched Lutz expectantly, but the Esper leader did not immediately answer. So, Rolf repeated, "Who?"

Quickly, Lutz raised his head and met Rolf's eyes. "Myau," he answered. "Myau has Odin's Laconian Axe, Rolf."

For a moment, Rolf tried to move his lips, but he couldn't. "Myau?" he finally said back to Lutz. "You don't mean...?" His question was left unfinished.

As he answered, Lutz strode towards Rolf. "Yes. I mean Myau, the greatest Musk Cat warrior who ever lived, the hero who aided Queen Landale in overthrowing the tyrant King Lassic. Myau lives, Rolf. Here, in fact, on Dezo, in a place called Myst Vale. He retreated there long ago, and when I assumed this position, Master Noah spoke to me through Elsydeon and made me swear to never, ever disturb the Musk Cat sanctuary. So perhaps you can understand my dilemma."

"I can," Rolf nodded.

"I only hope Myau can, as well," Lutz answered silently. "Go to Myst Vale, Rolf. Speak with Myau. Try to retrieve the axe."

Lutz again paused, and when he resumed speaking, Rolf knew he was deadly serious. "For Esper Mansion very well may fall without it."

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