Chapter Thirteen

"I've got a lock with the tractor beam," Tyler announced, flipping switches above his head with one hand, navigating the GUI on his computer screen with the other.

"Wren, this is Rolf aboard the Landale," Rolf repeated once more, nodding in acknowledgment of Tyler, "please respond." He raised his finger from the comm's transmit button. A waiting pause. "I'm still not getting anything from him."

"I'm telling you, his life signs are weaker than a mosquito," Tyler said. "From the looks of them, I'd doubt he has enough power to respond to you. If he even has enough power to hear the message in the first place."

"Well, at least we've got him," Rolf said, looking out the ship's viewport at the damaged Zelan shuttle as the Landale's tractor beam pulled it outside of the Palman Asteroid Belt. "But what was he doing out here? There'd be no reason for him to go into the asteroid field. Did he get too close, get caught inside it, and smashed apart by the asteroids?"

"We won't know until we get him back to Byren at Nurvus and get him... repaired..." Tyler answered, his voice drifting away at the end. Rolf glanced at his friend, slightly concerned, in time to hear Tyler hiss in a sharp intake of breath. "What in the stars?" the space pirate asked aloud. "Rolf, look at the screen."

With his left hand, Tyler sent an image to the central terminal screen, located between the ship's pilot and co-pilot stations. It was a magnified view of Wren's shuttle. "Do you see it?"

"I see it," Rolf replied, his eyes narrowing as he focused on the screen. "But I don't pretend I understand it."

The magnified view made it perfectly clear. Yes, there were a few dents on Wren's shuttle consistent with asteroid impacts, but the bulk of the damage, at least to the shuttle's hull, appeared to be scorch marks. And they were everywhere.

"It looks like we just rescued him from hell itself!" Tyler exclaimed in disbelief. "Rolf, he's absolutely cooked! How in the hell could that have happened to him out here in space?"

Before Rolf could provide an answer, an audible whooshing sound came through the cockpit. Turning his head, Rolf watched as two circles of blackness appeared in the air near the cockpit door, widening rapidly. As Rolf jumped to his feet, something red crackled forth from each black hole, and as the vortexes closed behind them, the two just-arrived glowing red Lungs swung on their axes, producing a buzzing hum sound, and swung in to attack Rolf.

The former agent, however, was already prepared. The Neisword was out of its scabbard and into his hands immediately, and he swung the blade hard to his left, clanging into the side of one Lung and knocking it slightly away from him before doing the same to the Lung attacking from his right. "There's more of them!" Rolf yelled in alarm, as a tingle of danger drifted across his mind. "They're in your cabin. Shir and the baby are under attack!"

But he couldn't exactly do anything about that just yet, not with the two Lungs between him and the door. Rolf swung the Neisword in an arc across the front of his body, knocking both the Lungs back again, and cursed silently at the fact that the cramped quarters of the ship's cockpit prevented him from launching a blast of Nafoi that could cook both Lungs and end the battle quickly.

As if realizing this same thing, but knowing for them it was an advantage rather than a disadvantage, the Lung to Rolf's left drove in towards him in a stab, while the second Lung flipped itself over until it was pointing straight up. While the first Lung attempted to stab him, the second was going to attempt to gut the ship.

Tyler was no help to Rolf for this one; the space pirate's only weapon was the laser pistol at his side, a weapon eliminated from play on the same grounds that ruled out Nafoi. Acting on instinct, Rolf took a quick step to the left, dodging out of the way of the stabbing Lung. Almost in the same moment, he looked up towards the second Lung and reached out with his telekinesis, grabbing a tight hold on the demonic sword and stopping its advance just inches from it reaching the circuits in the cockpit bridge's ceiling.

In the next second following his dodge, Rolf then twisted his hips, turning his body towards the Lung sailing through the space he had been standing in a moment before. Bringing the Neisword down over his shoulder like the Lung was wood on a chopping block, Rolf sliced through the living blade, the Lung's red glow exploding outward as the two pieces of the creature crashed to the floor of the ship, no longer glowing.

With one Lung dealt with, Rolf then turned his attention to the one he held in place near the ceiling. Again, he brought the Neisword back behind his shoulder, lowering the captured Lung with his mind until it was right before him. One more sweep of the Neisword, and this second Lung was now as lifeless as its brother.

- - - - - - - - - -

Though Shir's eyes were closed, her breathing deep and more rapid than normal, she could feel her husband squeezing her right hand tightly, while Amy applied a damp washcloth across her forehead. "Just keep your mind off the pain," her doctor was telling her softly. "If you could be anywhere right now, doing anything, what would it be?"

"I'd be... at a medical supply facility..." Shir replied without a moment's thought. "Stealing myself... a delivery transmat unit."

"Oh, my all-time favorite Mother Brain invention," Amy replied, the sarcasm in her voice obvious to Shir even through the pain. "Sure, they make childbirth a lot easier, just teleport the baby out and yell 'It's a boy!,' but personally, I've always felt the birth canal was the best way for a child to enter the world, as opposed to having its atoms scattered. 'Nurse, time of materialization was 1407.' But then, at medical school, they all called me old-fashioned."

"Hmm," Shir nodded. "But... how do you... really feel.... about them... Amy?"

Lance chuckled softly, ran his free hand through his blue hair. "Like I always say, it's your sense of humor that made me fall in love with you, Shir. I could kiss you right now."

Slowly, Shir opened her eyes, as the faint sound of wind filled the room. I've felt the breezes calling... she thought. But I can hear them... She blinked at the room around her as her husband and Amy jumped to their feet. All three had their eyes focused on the black holes that suddenly appeared in the room before them, and the two glowing red swords that emerged from those holes seconds later.

Quickly, Lance raised one hand, pointed it at the swords, and reached out with his mind, freezing the swords in place before they could move any closer. "Do you have any weapons in here, Amy?" Lance asked the doctor in alarm.

"I don't think she anticipated our son getting violent, Lance," Shir said, biting her teeth back from the pain of a fresh round of contractions.

"This wasn't supposed to be a long trip," Amy confirmed. "I don't even have an acidshot aboard with me."

Lance's brow furrowed under more concentration. "I'm holding them tight..." he told the two women, "but I'm just not strong enough... to launch an attack at the same time. And if I let them go..."

A small groan escaped Shir's mouth as the pain of the contractions got worse. Typical male... she thought to herself. Make me do all the work... As the pain increased, so did her groan, until it became a scream. Taking her pain out on the bed, she grabbed the sides of the mattress tightly in her fists, pulled herself up to more of a sitting position, and screamed out, in the midst of her pain, "Nagra!"

Shir had not used her Techniques much since they had met Mother Brain's creators two years before, but upon moving to Esper Mansion to live with her husband, she had started to relearn them, and now, her retraining had been put to good use. As her husband held the creatures steady with his mind, Shir's Nagra attack wrapped the Lungs in waves of powerful gravity, then slammed that gravity inwards, reducing the living swords in an instant to clouds of red ash.

With the attackers disposed of, and her contractions gone (for the moment... the unbearably brief moment...), Shir collapsed, fell backwards on the bed, and gasped for breath.

Lance had her hand in his again in a second. "God, I love you," he smiled at his bride. Then, he looked towards her abdomen and added, "Take that as a warning, Brandon. Always do what mommy says!"

- - - - - - - - - -

Rolf kicked a piece of one of the Lungs out from under his chair, then sat back down at the co-pilot's station. Tyler moved as if to get up from his own chair at the same time. "It's all right," Rolf reassured him. "They took care of the attackers back there."

"What were they?" Tyler asked, his attention already shifted back to his instrument panels.

"Let's put it this way," Rolf began, "if hell opened up today, and all the demons ran rampant over Mota, those things are what they would be armed with."

"The fun just never ends when I'm with you, Rolf," Tyler responded. "Life with you is a non-stop party."

There was a slight twitch in Rolf's mind. Slowly, he looked up from the monitor and focused his eyes out the ship's front viewport. "Tyler," Rolf started, quietly but quickly, "you don't know how right you are. Attach the tow lines and get us out of here. Now."

Rolf felt Tyler's eyes on him briefly before the ship's captain also looked out the viewport, and a moment later, Rolf knew that Tyler had seen it, too. A large asteroid, one of the largest of them all, and it was heading right for them.

Except unlike the other asteroids, this one wasn't brown. It was gold. And the color, combined with the direct path it was traveling in, made it pretty obvious right away: it probably wasn't an asteroid at all.

There was an exhale of hydraulics as somewhere under their feet, the tow ropes were launched from the hull of the Landale, their magnetic grips reaching across space for Zelan's shuttle. They found their home, the readouts on Tyler's board all went green, and as the Landale banked tight to port, turning back towards Mota, the ship and the creature were close enough for Rolf to make out its flapping wings.

And then his view of the beast was blocked as a giant wall of flame appeared before it, apparently originating from its mouth.

"I think we know what got Wren," Rolf safely guessed.

"We know what," Tyler agreed, "but what is it?"

Rolf switched to a reverse view on the monitor just as the Landale's engines started to speed up. The magnification of the screen now made it undeniable. The creature that had attacked Wren, and that was now chasing the Landale -- and gaining fast! -- was a Gold Dragon.

An absolutely enormous, space-borne Gold Dragon, that was.

"Shields, Tyler!" Rolf barked. "Not just your defensive ones, but the heat shields you use for planetary re-entry! Double-back, now, now!"

Tyler wasted no time. The shields went up just as, on the monitor, Rolf saw the dragon lower its head, making its body completely horizontal. Aerodynamically, the move made its body sleeker and faster, and though the aerodynamic instruction manual should have flown right out the window in outer space, Rolf's jaw dropped open slightly when he saw the dragon actually begin to gain ground on the Landale.

With a flick of his finger, Rolf opened the ship's intercom. "Hang on back there!" he shouted. "The ship's about to come under attack!"

Then the dragon opened its mouth and roared.

A cloud of flame as large as the dragon itself enveloped space in front of the creature, with the very edge of the blast wrapping itself around the Landale's rear engines. The shields held steady -- for now -- but amazingly, the creature was still gaining speed.

{Lance} Rolf called telepathically back to Tyler's cabin. {Lance, I need you up here, now!} He received a mental acknowledgment, glanced at Tyler.

"It's still gaining on us," he informed Rolf, one hand flying the ship and the other charging his weapons arrays. His voice was steady, but there was definitely an edge of alarm in it, as well. "Whatever it is. It can't be real, Rolf. It has to be some kind of machine. Some kind of ship."

Rolf placed a reassuring hand on the pirate's shoulder. "Just stay calm, but fly fast. It's real, Tyler. I don't know how, but it's real. I can feel its mind." Just then, the ship rocked as the dragon again roared. This time, half the ship was engulfed in the billow of flame, and Rolf watched as the shield readouts dipped to 83%.

"Damn!" Tyler hissed. "My shields are the best, but even I can't take much more of that!"

The door to the cockpit bridge opened then, and Lance Moonseer stepped inside. "Who's attacking us?" he asked quickly.

"What's attacking us," Tyler corrected.

"I don't know how, Lance, but it's a giant dragon, right out there in space," Rolf explained, "breathing fire like we're in kerosene rather than vacuum."

Lance glanced down at the reverse view on the monitor. "My God..." he whispered. "Rolf, that thing is real! I can sense it!"

"Brace!" Rolf shouted, and Lance instinctively grabbed the backs of both Rolf and Tyler's chairs as the ship found itself in the middle of a third blowtorch blast. This one was so large -- and the dragon now so close -- that flame was evident even right outside the ship's front viewport.

"It's defending its territory," Rolf said aloud, his eyes closed as he tried to sense whatever he could from the monster that was still gaining ground on them. The Gold Dragon roared again, and out the viewport, the black of outer space became the red of an inferno for two and a half agonizing seconds. The status on the shields dropped to somewhere around 60%.

Meanwhile, another status readout reached 100% and started blinking bright green. "'Bout time," Tyler muttered under his breath. "The cannons on this ship can punch a hole four-feet wide through an unshielded space ship hull. But if what you say is true, and that thing is organic... then ladies and gentlemen, we're going to need some clean-up robots in the general store."

With that, Tyler pressed the "fire" button on his rear-mounted weapons array and the cannons lit up, launching burst after burst of blue energy backwards towards the dragon. All three men watched in anticipation on the screen as the blasts slammed into the dragon's body.

Before dissipating into the vacuum of space, the monitors clearly showed a cloud of smoke rise up from each point of impact, and the dragon visibly staggered under the blows. But none of the blasts seemed to cause serious damage. And certainly, none punched a hole of any size in the dragon's golden hide.

They did, however, serve to make the beast even angrier than it had been before.

The dragon's head went back down into fast-flight position, its wings beat faster, and its mouth opened wide.

"Lance!" Rolf called out, hoping that the Esper's instincts were the same as his own. Both men closed their eyes in concentration and added their own mental power to that of the ship's shields, raising a telekinetic barrier across the back of the ship just before the next flame bath spewed forth from the dragon's throat.

"Whatever you two just did, keep it up!" Tyler shouted. "That looked like the biggest blast yet, but it did the least amount of damage."

"Lance," Rolf began, "I sense the creature is fiercely territorial, and is only chasing us because we made it even more angry by attacking it. Rather than attack it, if we can simply hold it back, increase the distance between us and it..."

"I think you're right," Lance agreed. "I think it will fly back to the asteroid field and leave us be."

"Let's hope you two are right," Tyler added. "I don't have the power to go any faster, not without taking power from the shields, or cutting the tractor beam holding onto Wren's shuttle."

Coordinating with his mind, Rolf led Lance in the construction of a telekinetic wall across space, between the ship and the dragon. Flapping its wings at full force, the dragon reached their teke field and rammed into it, but instead of holding it back as if it were made of solid laconian bricks, the effect was more like elastic. The dragon visibly slowed, but it still continued to move forward, unrelenting in its pursuit.

{Push it!} Rolf mentally commanded to Lance. {Push it back!}

Rolf gritted his teeth, and Lance took in a deep breath, and as the two men gave every ounce of Esper power they had, the invisible wall of force continued to get stronger, the dragon's flight getting slower and slower in direct proportion.

The men focused their force on the creature's body. It's head whipped around wildly, back and forth, focusing on the Landale and emitting another blast of flame. This time, the attack struck only the rear quarter of the ship. "It's working..." Rolf whispered, his voice strained with concentration. The Gold Dragon attacked again, its wings flapping madly in an attempt to get closer to the ship, but this time the flame it launched did not even reach the Landale's shields.

Though they were unable to stop its forward flight completely, they had managed to restrain it enough to get out of the reach of its flame.

"Tyler, engines!" Rolf exclaimed. Trusting his friend, Tyler lowered the ship's shields and used the now-available energy to gun the ship's engines to high power. An overdrive blast of bright blue shot from the rear of the ship as the dragon slowly faded into obscurity behind them. Slowly, cautiously, Rolf and Lance together dropped their telekinetic shield. With maximum magnification on the reverse view monitor, the three men watched as the dragon flapped its wings and took off full force in pursuit of the ship. It spewed forth a fire blast of indignant rage, then, its wings flapped slower, until finally, it simply hovered in place.

Raising its head upward, as if towards the heavens, the dragon emitted one final blast of hellfire from its mouth, then, as it disappeared from their screen, it turned and flew back towards the asteroid field. Only then did Rolf, Tyler, and Lance allow themselves to once again breathe.

- - - - - - - - - -

An hour later, they were all in a waiting room at Paseo Memorial Hospital, and Rolf's mouth hurt. It took him a moment to realize why -- he hadn't smiled this much in a long, long time -- and when he did, he decided he could take the pain and continued smiling anyway.

Rolf and Tyler had arrived, of course, with Shir, Lance, and Amy aboard the Landale. They had contacted the Central Tower and Birth Valley during their inbound approach to the planet, and had landed just outside of town. After dropping the patient off, however, Tyler moved on to Nurvus, where he should have been just arriving with Wren's damaged shuttle and the damaged Wren himself. Hugh, Kain, and Kip had arrived just a few minutes earlier, and with their arrival, it was as if a weight had been lifted from Rolf's shoulders.

Sure, the situation had been cranked up a big notch by the discovery that there was a Gold Dragon flying around the Palman Asteroid Field, but for now, that wasn't a factor in Rolf's mind. Nor was losing the Laconian Axe to the red-robed monsters, the slain Musk Cat, the theft of Nei's claws... for now, there was just the happiness at the new life that was about to join them. One of their own was about to become a mother. In a strange way, all four men in the room were about to become uncles.

"It feels great, doesn't it?" Hugh asked Rolf, propping his cane against the side of the waiting room's sofa, and taking a seat on it next to Rolf. Kain sat in a nearby chair, while Kip -- ever the guardian -- stood watch near the door.

"That's funny," Rolf smiled. "I was just thinking the same thing."

"Right now, I don't want to think about Seed, and the only daughter I want to think of is the one Shir and Lance may have here shortly."

"Oh, sorry," Rolf clarified, "the word must not have gotten around yet. They finally broke down and had Amy tell them two days ago. It's a boy."

"A boy, that's great!" Hugh exclaimed.

"How has Shir been?" Kain asked, sipping a stim-juice. "I haven't seen her since her wedding."

"She's been very happy," Rolf nodded. "Of course, she and Lance married very shortly after the Espers' powers were restored, so all of a sudden she found herself the only person in the mansion without telemental abilities. That's been hard on her, a little -- you know, adapting to living in such a radically different society and all, but she's handled it fine. And I think she likes the challenge." A small sigh. "I know she likes being as far from her parents' reach as possible."

"I remember they weren't at the wedding," Hugh said. "I thought that strange, and I remember asking Amy about it. She said she remembered Shir telling her once that her and her folks weren't very close."

"Shir's whole career as a thief began as a rebellion to her parents' lifestyle, their controlling nature," Rolf agreed. "I grew up with her, so I remember as a teenager, she and I would both complain about what... what jerks they were sometimes. But I always envied the fact that, you know, at least her birth parents were alive.

"Now, being older," he continued, "I can see that yes, they were strict, but in their own minds, they were always acting out of love. I've been trying to encourage Shir to make some kind of contact with them. They haven't spoken in years now. I think they found out through the newsbeams that Shir traveled with us two years ago, in fact." Another small sigh. "It's kind of sad they won't be here today, but it's not our place to invite them. Shir has to do that."

Kain and Hugh both nodded, a little uncomfortable. "Regardless," he said, turning to them both, "Shir and Lance are among friends and loved ones. That's what's important, not sore subjects from the past."

"What?" a deep voice asked. "You mean that time I beat you in three straight games of barton?"

All three of them stood to great Rudo as he arrived. Anna, too, arrived with him, but she remained paused at the waiting room's door speaking to Kip. There were handshakes and greetings all around. "I'm not late, am I?" the Commander of Mota asked.

"Not that we know of," Kain replied. "Glad to see you were able to squeeze this in between state dinners."

"I wouldn't have missed this for the world," Rudo admonished him. "But frankly, I'm surprised I do get to be here. I thought the birth would be at Esper Mansion."

"I thought the same thing," Anna added, as she and Kip joined them. "Why the sudden change of plans?"

"Well, circumstances warranted a quick departure from the mansion. It's nothing too serious," he quickly clarified off all of their concerned looks. "But it's something we can discuss later. There's a baby about to be born here!"

"Could be another one soon, eh, boss?" Kip asked, giving Anna a nudge. "You and the Commander have any plans for kids in your future?"

"Kip, if you would recall," Rudo began, slipping an arm around his wife's shoulders, "about a year ago, Anna and I were getting ready to retire. Then someone fell asleep at the wheel and gave me this crazy job, so things didn't work out as planned, but Mrs. Steiner and I are still trying to keep our lives quiet. I don't anticipate a baby anytime soon."

Anna smiled, reached up and grabbed the hand Rudo had over her shoulders. "Besides, one is enough for us to handle."

"One?" Hugh asked. "I must really be out of the loop here..."

"She's trying to be funny," Rudo clarified. "She means Mota."

There was a knock at the door. Amy opened it, poked her head inside, and said, "Hey everyone, I've got some good news."

"What's that, doctor?" Kain asked. "They've perfected a surgical technique so that all ladies may look as lovely as yourself?"

Amy blushed. She'd never been comfortable with comments like that, which was probably why Kain enjoyed flirting with her so much. Rolf didn't think Kain felt he'd embarrassed Amy enough until her face was as red as his trusty overalls.

"No," Amy shook her head. "No, my news is, we now have a very healthy baby boy with us."

Everyone in the room cheered, traded hugs, especially with the doctor who had successfully delivered the child. "Mother and son, and father, are all doing just fine," Amy continued. "I'll let you all know when you can see them. But I thought you'd all like to know right away."

"Name!" Hugh called out to his old research partner over the clamor of the celebration. "Amy, what's the name?"

At last, the smile fell off of Rolf's face, as his entire jaw dropped slightly open. "Well just a couple days ago, they had planned on naming him Brandon," Amy announced. "But once he was born, they both decided that they liked the name Kyle much better. And the middle name they gave him is after Lance's father. Kyle Romin Moonseer."

By God, you were right, Lutz, Rolf thought, but per Lutz's wishes, he shared the real news with no one just yet. Just like always... you were right.

- - - - - - - - - -

Lutz sat slumped down in his throne. The only light in the room came from the single candle that burned behind him, so although he stared forward towards the ornate wooden doors of Esper Mansion, he could not actually, physically see them. What he could see, however, in his mind's eye, was Romin Moonseer, descending the west stairway down towards where he sat.

His eyes shifted just a fraction towards the base of the stairs, where Romin was just now coming down off the bottom stair and turning into the entryway. He saw Lutz immediately and jumped.

"Master Lutz!" Lance Moonseer's father exclaimed, gripping his heart. "My apologies, I did not realize you were down here. I saw the flicker of candlelight, and I assumed someone forgot a candle. I did not mean to disturb you."

"You did not disturb me," Lutz assured him, "because I sensed your presence on the stairs. As you should have sensed mine, down here in the entry chamber."

"I am an old man, master," Romin smiled. "I sometimes forget to use these powers that have so recently been given to us."

"Not given, Romin," Lutz corrected him, but like the first rebuke, it was mild, and carried no rigor, "restored to you. I -- or more correctly, Amy and Hugh -- have simply restored to you and our people what was accidentally taken from you centuries ago. But I am glad you are here, for I have news."

"Oh?" Romin raised an eyebrow.

A wide smile came across Lutz's face. "Your grandson has just been born."

"My... my grandson!" the new grandfather exclaimed. "Where? On Motavia?"

"I am unsure as to the details," Lutz admitted, "but I know he has been born."

"Wait 'till I tell my bride!" Romin clapped his hands. "Our grandson, Brandon!"

"Actually, Lance and Shir decided to name him Kyle," Lutz revealed, though he did not say anything about the fact that he knew this well before Lance and Shir did. "It is the one detail I am for sure of."

"Thank you, Master Lutz," Romin bowed. "If you will excuse me, my wife--"

"If I may, Romin," Lutz interrupted, "there is one other matter."

"Of course."

Lutz looked downward, away from Romin's eyes. "You are a leader of this home, of our people... our society," he started. "I must admit to you, Romin, that I do not always readily share my feelings with you, nor with the rest of our people. I simply..." He paused, reorganized the thought. "I prefer to shoulder my burdens myself, is all. It is not that I don't trust my people. And it is certainly not that I don't love my people."

The elder Moonseer was obviously somewhat taken aback by the sudden change in subject. "Master Lutz... we have never thought such things. We have always known that you are a private person, but you bear such great responsibilities... We could not begin to understand what it must mean to do what you do."

"Romin, this is very important," Lutz started, sitting up in his chair. "Romin, I may be leaving the mansion for a while."

"What?" the elder Moonseer gasped. He was almost as startled now as he had been excited minutes earlier at the news of his grandson's birth.

"I may be leaving, but I want to assure you, it would not be a permanent sabbatical. Please, Romin... if you and the rest of our people know but one thing about me, please know that I will never leave you. I will always be here for you."

"All right," Romin nodded slowly. "I understand."

Lutz stood from his throne. "I will disturb you no longer, then. Go. Share with your wife the news of your grandson. May you be at peace."

Romin bowed again. "May you be at peace as well, Master Lutz." He then watched Kyle's grandfather retreat slowly back up the west stairs.

Once he was gone, Lutz whispered aloud, "With Kyle safe, I can be at nothing but peace." He then extinguished the candle behind him and retreated downstairs, through the secret passage there and into the caves that led to Elsydeon.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Are these Motavian?" Rolf asked, looking over the cigar Rudo had handed him. He brought it to his nose, sniffed, reaffirmed his guess.

"You bet," Rudo replied, cutting the end off his own cigar and placing it between his lips. "Fine Molcum tobac." He reached into his pocket for a lighter, but Rolf cut him off.

"Allow me," Rolf said, pointing a finger at the end of Rudo's cigar. A short, quick spark of Foi later, and the cigar was lit. Rolf did the same to his own.

"Nice party trick," Rudo admired the move.

Rolf nodded. "Thanks, but I don't get to many parties."

The others had all retreated downstairs to the hospital cafeteria to find a bite to eat when Amy had estimated it would be another hour or so before they'd be allowed to visit Shir and the rest of her family. Rolf, however, had matters to discuss with the Commander of Mota, and so the two of them stayed behind, upstairs in their private waiting room.

Puffing at their celebratory cigars, the two friends just stood at the window at first, looking out over their city. Rolf knew that Rudo much preferred the rural areas, and would retire to one in a moment were it not for his job, but because of his job, that made Paseo as much Rudo's city as it was Rolf's. The former agent exhaled, as if trying to hang onto the carefree happiness he and his friends had been experiencing for the last couple of hours. But he knew business was at hand.

A small buzzing started at the back of Rolf's brain. He glanced over at his friend. "Are you sure tobac is the only thing in these?"

Rudo's eyes narrowed, unsure of what Rolf meant at first. Then, with understanding, he practically took a step backwards. "Oh come on," Rudo chided him. "We're not even supposed to have these in here in the first place. And remember, I'm a politician now. You think I'd be so stupid as to..."

"No, I know," Rolf replied. "It's just... nevermind." Rolf lowered the cigar to his side, and started going over his travel to Myst Vale, and their wild flight back to Mota.

Rudo listened to the whole story, nodding, finishing his cigar. "So what's he like in person?" he asked at last. Rolf knew exactly who he spoke of.

"Myau was never king of Algo, of course," Rolf said, "but there is a definite air of... I guess all you can call it is royalty about him." Rolf shook his head, tried to clear it. I guess, come to think of it, I haven't had a cigar since graduating from the academy... "He's very dignified, very--"

"Are you okay?" Rudo asked. He put out his cigar, grabbed Rolf's and did the same, and moved to open a window.

"I'm fine. I think maybe I just need some fresh air."

"I'll save the cigars for a man who will appreciate them next time, like Kain."

Rolf shook his head and sucked in some fresh air. He rubbed at the back of his head, as if the tingling he felt was an itch he could scratch. When, of course, that did nothing, he let out a breath and continued his debriefing. "I'm willing to bet that these red-robed creatures are based in the Palman Asteroid Field," he finally said. "That Gold Dragon wasn't just born naturally out there, after all."

"Could be that Wren figured that out, too," Rudo agreed. "That could be why he was out there."

Suddenly, the buzzing in the back of Rolf's brain became a slice of pain all the way through it, and the former agent collapsed to the floor instantly.

"Rolf!" Rudo called out, dropping to the floor next to his friend. "Rolf, are you all right? Rolf?"

He managed to flutter his eyes open. Rudo was staring at him, concerned. He waved his hand in front of Rolf's face. Rolf glanced at him briefly, tried to acknowledge his friend, but he couldn't. The message was just too strong now, too urgent to be ignored.

Rolf groaned aloud.

Rudo turned his head to face the door. "Amy!" he barked. "Nurse, anybody! Help!"

Danger... danger...

"I'm going to get help," Rudo softly told his friend, setting Rolf's back against the wall and moving to stand.

Before he could leave, Rolf reached up and seized his forearm tightly. "Lutz..." Rolf croaked out from a voice suddenly thick and almost deprived of air.

"Rolf?" Rudo asked again. "Rolf, what is it?"

With air suddenly filling his lungs, Rolf yelled "Lutz!" He looked up at Rudo, his eyes now wide, practically in delirium. "Lutz is in danger! Lutz is in danger!"

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