Rolf and Rudo teleported into the room with a soft pop of air. It was designed to be a double occupancy room in the hospital, but the room's second bed had been removed, a table put in its place, so that Shir's guard staff would have a place to work. Rudo slowly walked over to where Anna stood and placed an arm around her shoulder. As Rolf looked up at his assembled friends -- Shir in the bed, holding her son, Kyle; Lance seated next to her; Hugh and Kain, standing near the window visiting; Amy, reading medical monitors on the wall; Kip and Sawa, leaders of Shir's round-the-clock protection team, standing near the table; and Anna and Tyler, standing near Rudo -- they all saw that his eyes, though now dry, were red.
And they all saw on his face that the horrible possibility was true.
"It's confirmed," Rolf said to them all in a soft voice. He had to clear his throat before he could continue speaking; he and Rudo had not said a word the entire trip back to Mota in the agents' shuttle. "We went to Esper Mansion, and the energy barrier was down. I teleported us directly to the Elsydeon room and... and that's where we found him."
Rolf reached into a satchel bag they all just now realized he was carrying. He pulled out the one item stored in the bag, and they all gasped. It was Lutz's Frad Mantle, but it was no longer white and elegant. It was red, torn, and tattered. He looked into the eyes of all of them, and they all were horrified. There were several tears. Rolf knew they'd never forget this moment, looking upon Lutz's soiled uniform. But he also knew they would never be nearly as scarred as he had been, peeling it from Lutz's mangled, bloody corpse.
"They killed him," he confirmed aloud, as if there had been any doubt in their minds. "No," he corrected himself a moment later. "No, they mutilated him. They butchered him." He stared out the window, tightened his jaw to hold back the tears. "He was... he was missing body parts... His hand... his eye..." He looked down, wiped a hand across his face, as a few more tears came despite his objections.
The assembled heroes all looked as if they had been punched in the stomach. Kyle started crying, and Shir brought him close to her, though it was debatable as to who was the one in need of comfort. Lance wept openly. Amy's hands still covered her mouth, as if unable to believe what Rolf was saying.
Kain turned to the window, trying to hide his face from his friends as it twisted into a grimace of emotion, the tough wrecker struggling to hold back tears. Hugh saw it, however, and placed an arm across his friend's shoulders.
"I may be the one in charge of this planet," Rudo said softly, "and Bishop Jut may rule Dezo. But Lutz was truly Algo's leader. I only wish he could have been known by more people than just those in this room."
"He was a great man," Anna nodded.
"He was more than that," Lance added. "He was the heart and soul of my entire society. He gave his life for Algo, long before today. He was as dedicated and as determined as Queen Landale herself. There..." He shook his head, wiped his face. "There will never be another man like him. Never."
"Who did this, Rolf?" Kain asked, turning from the window, no longer concerned with who saw him cry. "Who did this to him? Because I swear to God they're gonna pay..."
Rolf closed his eyes and shook his head. "I assume it was the same wizards we've seen already. The ones who attacked Hugh. The ones who robbed the Machine Center, and took the axe. 'Xerik' is the name of one of them, I think. But, despite what they did to Lutz... it's worse."
The assembled group raised their heads, unsure how it could get any worse than this. "Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism are gone," Rolf told them, defeat and guilt evident in his voice. He knew it was irrational, that Lutz had deliberately sent him to Mota to protect Kyle. But he couldn't help feeling that it was his fault. That as Protector, he should have been there to defend Algo's wisest hero, and to keep the sacred sword and the prism from falling into darkness's hands.
"So they have the axe," Rolf started to summarize, "they have Elsydeon, they have the Aero-Prism, and they've killed Lutz. And we don't even know if these wizards are working on their own, or if they work for someone else!" He punctuated the last by slamming a fist into his palm.
"We know something's going on out in the asteroid field," Hugh spoke up. "Let's get back out there and take a look."
"Easier said than done," Tyler quipped. "I guarantee you, Hugh, even a prominent biologist like yourself has never seen anything like that dragon that's out--"
Tyler stopped his words short as a gust of wind started to blow through the room. Kyle started crying again immediately. Most glanced at the window, or at the door, puzzled by this odd event. But Rolf, remembering from Myst Vale, knew exactly what was next. He dropped the tattered Frad Mantle to the floor, yanked the Neisword from its scabbard, and focused on the point of blackness that even now was growing in the corner of the room.
The portal widened until three of the giant red-robed demon wizards stepped out of the blackness and into the room. "What's this?" the demon in front, who wore the Laconian Axe strapped to its back, asked in its hollow voice. "Looks like a party, sounds like a funeral."
Rudo, Anna, Tyler, and Sawa had all grabbed their small arms from their holsters and pointed them at the demons. Kain swung the shotgun strapped around his shoulders into his hands. But before anyone could fire, one of the two demons standing behind the leader raised one of his bony hands before him, palm outward, and a glowing Deban shield appeared before the trio.
"Who are you?" Rolf asked. He was standing directly before the leader demon, just a few feet away, with only their shield between his Neisword and their throats.
"We are Xe-A-Thouls," the leader answered with a flourish and a bow, "metzi de le rei. I am Xanon, and these are my brothers Xarxas and Xerik." His head turned; Rolf guessed, under his mask, he was glancing at the crumpled Frad Mantle on the floor. "Oh!" he mocked in alarm. "Is something the matter with your friend Lutz?"
"You killed him," Rolf replied. It was a statement, not a question.
"I wish," the demon Xarxas growled.
"This social visit is not without purpose," Xanon explained. "You see, we want you to meet someone, Rolf..."
Xanon and Xarxas stepped aside and motioned their hands towards the still-open teleportal behind them. Xerik, however, kept his eyes on the Protectors, his hand still raised before him casting Deban, as Rolf and the others caught a glimpse of something flesh-colored from within the portal.
And then the portal closed, and standing in the room was a creature that could have been described as Nei's shadow. Except for her face, everything else about her was pitch-black, from her form-fitting bodysuit, to her cape, to her jet black hair. Even her eyes were black. But while Nei's eyes were wide with wonder and happiness, this creature's eyes were narrow and focused, like Neifirst's. They were also filled with undeniable hatred.
Slowly, Rolf lowered the Neisword to his side. The creature was wearing the claws stolen from his home. Nei's claws.
"Her name is Neithird," Xanon announced, and the name produced another gasp from the assembled heroes, save for Rolf, who stood perfectly still and stared straight into her eyes as she approached him. "And she has so been wanting to meet you, Rolf."
"Nei..." Rolf muttered.
"Alisssssss...," Neithird hissed in response.
"She's the one who carved Lutz like a Dezorian Owl!" Xanon howled in delight. "I used to think my brother Xarxas was subject to mad frenzy, but she brings new definition to that term."
"Rolf..." Rudo's voice called out. He kept his pistol aimed at the demons, but slowly started stepping towards Rolf. "Rolf, that's not Nei. Rolf, tell me you understand. Rolf, that's not Nei."
As she reached the edge of the Xe-A-Thouls' barrier, Neithird simply stepped through it, closer to Rolf. She brought her claws before her in a ready stance. A low hiss came from her lips.
"And now she will massacre your pitiful band," Xanon shouted, "one by one, until you tell us where Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism are, Rolf."
Rolf's eyes left Neithird's. He glanced sharply at Xanon.
"And as she carves apart your friends before your very eyes, you will be unable to stop her, for you could never harm a hair on your beloved sister's head!"
Rolf looked back at Neithird. His eyes narrowed. "My sister..." he whispered.
Neithird roared, jumped at him.
Algo's Protector brought his fist back, and then slammed it squarely into the middle of Neithird's face.
The creature crumpled to the floor instantly and for several moments did not move. "How dare you!" Rolf shouted, bringing the Neisword before him again. "You think me so naive that I would let harm come to my friends simply because their attacker looks like my sister? You three must really be as dumb as you look."
Xarxas's head shook with anger. Xanon simply stared at Rolf, in obvious, complete, and total shock.
Neithird climbed to her feet. Her tiny nose was twisted and flattened, and the lower half of her face was covered with the blood that gushed from her wound. She licked the blood from her lips, raised her claws, and hissed loudly at Rolf.
"You wanna go?" Rolf asked the creature. "Let's go."
"We'll take Rolf back with us," Xanon said, turning towards Xerik. He then turned to face Xarxas. "The rest of them die."
After that, all hell broke loose.
As the Xe-A-Thouls dropped their shield and began to charge, Amy used a Deban technique of her own to wall in a circle containing herself, Shir, Lance, and the baby. Next to them, they watched as Rolf and Neithird engaged in vicious combat. Sparks literally flew across the room as the purple metal of Rolf's Neisword clanged into the metal of Neithird's claws.
The creature slashed in near Rolf's chest, but the former agent jumped backwards a step, avoiding the blow. He swung his blade in wide from the left, between two of her claws, and then used the leverage to push her arm away from her body, leaving her torso wide open for a swift kick to the abdomen.
She was knocked away from Rolf by the kick, but much faster than Rolf expected, she had pounced back at him, almost right into his face. He brought his weapon before him in defense, blocked her blow, and pushed her back, where he resumed swinging at her with his blade.
Somewhere in the midst of their swing-parry-repeat sequences, Neithird got in an attack that slashed across Rolf's right forearm. He howled in pain, momentarily losing his grip on the Neisword in surprise. He used his teke, however, to quickly pull it back into his hand. Obviously not expecting this, Neithird barely brought her claws in front of her face in time to shield herself from a killing blow.
They glared at each other as their weapons were locked before Neithird's face. Then suddenly, Neithird dropped to the ground, slid forward under and through Rolf's legs, and stabbed her claws upward towards his lower back.
A quick teke shield was all that kept her from severing his spinal cord. He spun around as she got back to her feet but stayed in a crouch, still lunging with her claws. Just as suddenly as she had slid underneath him, she then pounced into the air, flipping over his head, and landing where she had been before -- which was now behind him. Neithird managed to slash the flesh of Rolf's shoulder before he could react to what she had done, spinning around to face her again.
She brandished her claws and released another of her blood-curtling howls, which was all the more terrifying with the blood still running down her face (which she seemed completely oblivious to). There was no mistaking the meaning behind the howl: she was just getting warmed up. It was some of the most intense physical combat Rolf had found himself in since they all were in battle with several hundred Earthmen, and it was only the beginning.
But when a shotgun blast ripped through the room, proceeded by a splatter of blood, the entire room fell silent.
When the Xe-A-Thouls dropped their energy barrier and attacked, they seemed to be in no real rush. They simply turned to the Palmans closest at hand, and their hands glowing with power, started to attack. Xerik was standing closest to Kip and Sawa. The Guardians' leader drew his staff and swung it around to attack, but Xerik grabbed the staff in his powerful, bony hand and snapped it in two. He then launched an energy blast that Kip took in the chest, knocking him backwards.
Sawa used the opportunity to charge into Xerik, attempting to knock him down. He didn't know what was underneath the Xe-A-Thouls' robes, but whatever it was, it was tough, because the monster didn't give an inch when he slammed into it.
Xanon, meanwhile, had stepped towards Rudo, Anna, and Tyler. Rudo and Tyler fired their small arms at the creature, but all of their fire bounced off a small energy field he created by raising his hand. When Anna cracked her whip around his wrist and yanked his arm out of the way, however, Rudo and Tyler were both able to pellet the demon's chest with several good shots. With a swipe of his arm, though, the Xe-A-Thouls' leader launched a wave of red energy at the two men that knocked their guns out of their hands while sending them to the floor.
Turning to Anna, Xanon used his dark power to create a blade of red energy that he swiped down across Anna's whip, cutting it in two. With a speed a creature of his size shouldn't have had, Xanon then grabbed the half of the whip not attached to his wrist before it could fall to the floor, and yanked the startled Anna Steiner towards him.
He spun her around and pulled her close to him, wrapping an arm around her throat. Then, producing his mystical red blade again, he brought it to Anna's throat and looked at Rudo. "This one is your lover, is it not?" he asked in his hollow tone. "Watch in helplessness as I slice her throat!"
Before he could do so, Anna kicked backwards, knocking the demon off-guard, and then reached up (way up) behind her to grab the back of his head. She grunted with all her strength, but she managed to flip the demon over her shoulder, until he was flat on his back in front of her. With one fluid motion she pulled a slicer from her belt, and holding it like a dagger thrust downward.
She released the slicer and yelped in pain as a blast of energy from the demon connected with her hand. The demon did not climb but rather floated back to its feet, turned to where Rudo and Tyler were coming back for another pass, and slammed his forearm across both of their faces.
But as all this happened, back when it all first started, Xarxas made a bee-line straight for Kain.
Xarxas hadn't forgotten that Kain was the one who shot him back at the Machine Center; hadn't forgotten that it was Kain who had forced him to return to the Dark Castle wounded to face a stern warning healing from Lassic. And part of Kain, too, suspected -- no, knew -- that it was Xarxas who had invaded Birth Valley all those months ago.
The Wrecker was out for blood. But so was the Xe-A-Thoul.
Charging for Kain, Xarxas stepped right past Hugh. The demon never saw the Biologist pick up his cane, feel the weight of its metal frame, or swing it around right into the back of his skull.
Hugh had Xarxas's immediate and complete attention. His cane was now dented where he had wrapped it around Xarxas's skull, but he drew it back and swung it again, this time hitting Xarxas square across the face, but without flinching, the Xe-A-Thoul continued to advance on him. When he swung the cane a third time, Xarxas caught it and discarded it across the room. He then grabbed Hugh by the throat and lifted him into the air.
"There's something very familiar about this, eh?" he asked the Biologist, squeezing his throat with his bony and deceptively strong hand. Hugh kicked, but as the demon said, he'd been here before. He knew what worked and what didn't. So rather than physically struggle, Hugh stared straight into Xarxas's mask, focused, and unleashed a volley of Savol.
The technique wrapped its power around Xarxas, who only seemed to smile under the assault. "You attack me with the power of death, Palman?" the demon scoffed. "I am death. I am made not of flesh and bone but of terror and malice. I am a dream of the unholy Dark Force brought to glorious life by The Prof--"
His words were cut off as Kain jumped onto his back, wrapping his arms around his head and squeezing. The goal of Kain's attack was to get the monster to let go of Hugh, which he did, but not as Kain had hoped. The demon launched Hugh forward, through the room's window with an explosion of shattering glass. Kain's eyes went wide, alarmed, but then he was reminded that Shir's room overlooked the hospital's entryway, so rather than fall to the ground, Hugh had landed on a wide ledge just outside the window.
Still, refusing to let go, Kain squeezed the demon's head until Xarxas reached behind his head, grabbed the Wrecker, and tossed him over his head and to the floor. Kain crashed into the window ledge, just missing flying out the same window Hugh had been tossed through, but slicing his arm on some of the broken glass. He shook his head to regain his senses and looked down at his arm to see how badly he had been hurt, but before he saw his wounds, he saw his hands.
In his hands, he still clutched the demon's mask. Apparently, he had ripped it off the Xe-A-Thoul when it had thrown him.
Slowly, Kain traced the long red-purple robes from where they touched the ground, all the way up to the creature's head, and he knew immediately why they wore the masks.
The creature's head was really nothing more than a vaguely reptilian-looking skull, though rather than being just bone, it appeared to be covered by soft, rotting pus-yellow flesh. There were large, wide eye sockets, but they were empty, holding nothing but blackness. The mouth was lined with small, sharp teeth, and a long, thin, pointed tongue darted in and out of the mouth, flapping around wildly.
Unable to move in temporary shock, Kain was helpless as the unmasked Xarxas reached out and seized his throat with his left hand, pressing Kain's neck into the window ledge. With his right hand, he plucked a piece of shattered glass from the window sill and brought it down close to Kain's face, the creature's own face getting closer as he did so. The stench was practically unbearable, and Kain coughed and gagged immediately. As if to test the blade's sharpness, Xarxas cut across Kain's shoulder, severing the strap that allowed him to swing his Shotgun from across his back into his arms, and digging deep into his shoulder at the same time.
"If you wanted my mask, you should have just asked for it," Xarxas taunted, his long, thin tongue flying all across his face as he spoke. "But now that it's yours, hang on to it. When I'm done with your face, you'll need it, because even your friends won't want to see what you look like."
"Guess you know... how that feels like..." Kain grunted. He wiggled, tried to break free of the demon's grasp, but couldn't.
Using his piece of glass, Xarxas slowly and gently cut across Kain's cheek, starting at the bottom of his jaw and moving up, towards his eye. A trail of red showed where he had been. "I want you to watch while I carve you alive," Xarxas told him, a gleam in his empty-socket black eyes, "but you only need one eye to see..."
In that moment, Kain felt his shotgun yanked from his back. He heard it cock. "Wha..?" he heard Xarxas grunt.
Then, standing behind him, on the ledge outside the window, Hugh Thompson shoved the barrel of the shotgun forward between Xarxas's eyes and pulled the trigger.
Rolf looked in the direction the shotgun blast had come from. He saw a headless Xe-A-Thoul, its neck a sprinkler of black blood, with Hugh standing just outside the window holding the still-smoking shotgun.
"Xarxas!" Xanon shouted, and there was no mistaking the agony in his voice. He threw Anna, Rudo, and Tyler away from him, and started to charge towards where his fallen brother lay, before the third Xe-A-Thoul, Xerik, grabbed him and started pulling him towards the corner of the room, where a teleportal was already forming.
"Xarxas!" Xanon shouted again. "Xarxas!"
"Brother, we must leave," Xerik said, dragging Xanon, literally kicking and screaming, for the portal. "We will return with more troops."
"You killed him!" Xanon shouted as he looked straight at Hugh. "In the name of Darkness, I will hunt you down!"
"Yeah?" Kain asked, standing, helping Hugh climb back into the room through the shattered window. "You and what army, pal? We'll be waiting for you!"
Tossing his brother through the teleportal, Xerik reached out with an open hand and Neithird flew towards him. He seized her by the arms and tossed her through the portal before he, too, followed her. Then the portal disappeared, and they were all gone.
A quick check all around showed no major injuries, so Amy started attending to them one by one, starting with Hugh. "Are you all right?" Rudo asked the biologist.
"My legs are a little sore," Hugh answered, "but overall I'm fine." He glanced at the Xe-A-Thoul corpse, which continued to pump black blood across the floor of the room. "I have to admit, that felt damn good."
"How's Kyle?" Rolf asked. He was crying, no doubt mostly from the loud shotgun blast that had resounded through the room.
"He's fine," Shir nodded. "Just a little scared."
"Sawa," Rolf spoke up. "We're probably about to have the whole hospital upon us after all the noise we just had here. Can you step outside and assure everyone that everything is fine?"
"After that," Rudo added, "let's move Shir to a new room, one we can install an anti-teleport field around. Their teleporting ability looks magical rather than technological, but it's worth a shot."
"You bet," Sawa nodded. "I don't want to see those Hands of the King again anymore than you do."
With that, Sawa started to walk from the room. Rolf, who had turned to investigate Kain's well being, suddenly reached out and seized the Motavian agent by the shoulder, spinning him around to face him.
"What did you just say?" Rolf demanded.
Sawa blinked, looked to Rudo. "I said I don't want to see them again. Doesn't everyone here agree...?"
"No," Rolf shook his head, his heart rate racing, "what did you call them? What did you call those demons who were just here?"
"I... I called them Hands of the King," Sawa answered, confused. "That's what they introduced themselves as. Metzi de le rei. In the old Palman languages, that means 'Hands of the King.'"
With that final bit of information, Rolf understood everything.
"Of course...," Rolf whispered, releasing Sawa and pacing the room. "My god, why didn't we see it before?"
"Rolf?" Tyler asked. "Rolf, what is it?"
"It all makes sense now!" he announced to the room. All eyes were on him. "Killing a Musk Cat and calling it Myau. A base out in the Palman Asteroid Field, with a Gold Dragon protecting it. Demons who call themselves 'Hands of the King'! Don't you see? It's Lassic! It's King Lassic! He is the one who has returned!"
"But he was just a man," Shir shook her head. "How can he be back?"
"He was a man who sold his soul to Dark Force," Rolf corrected her. "Surely the king of hell can return to life any of its residents."
"But what does he want?" Lance asked.
"We know he wants all of us dead," Anna answered. "Whatever he wants beyond that, if he wants us dead, he knows we'll try to stop him."
"And now he has Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism..." Rudo said.
"No!" Amy corrected. "No, didn't you hear them, right when they arrived? They said Neithird would kill us all one by one until Rolf told them where they could find Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism."
"Right," Rolf nodded with a smile. "That's why they attacked us here today. They invaded Esper Mansion and they killed Lutz because he wouldn't tell them where to find the items, either."
"So if Lutz didn't have them," Kain started, "and if we don't have them, and if they don't have them... then who has them?"
"That's the only thing I can't figure out," Rolf admitted. "If Lutz hid Elsydeon, it was because he knew, or at least suspected, that's what they were after. But if he knew Elsydeon was the target of the attack, then when he sent Kyle here to Mota for protection, why didn't he--" He stopped, smiled. "Why didn't he send Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism with me, as well?"
Before he could give them an answer, he teleported out of the room.
He blinked his eyes, and he was standing in the cockpit of the Landale. A glance out the side viewport and he could see where Byren was still working on repairing Wren. Closing his eyes, he opened his mind -- it had to be here. He just knew it.
Sensing nothing, he turned around and walked forward, eyes still closed, out of the cockpit and down the corridor. He took short steps and reached his mind out as far as it would go. Nei, he thought within his mind, Nei, they thought they could use you against me. Help me show them that you are my strength, not my weakness. Guide me to Elsydeon, Nei. I know it's here.
He stopped. He still sensed nothing. Something Lutz had said to him, about the sword falling silent after it had informed him that "he had returned," came back to mind. Nei, I know there may be powerful forces at work in Algo right now, keeping Elsydeon silent. But you and I, Nei, we share a special bond. Though I knew you only for a short time, I came to love you like you were my sister. That is still what everyone calls you -- my sister. If I hear your voice, Nei, just for a moment, I can find the sword. Remember your first words to me, Nei.
In his mind, he saw the mob of townspeople separate, and saw the small, sad creature they had surrounded. Before he knew whether she was friend or foe, she had embraced him in a hug, crying, and she'd said--
Please help me.
He had told the crowd to disperse, to--
Rolf stopped. That thought had come from the cargo hold, not from his memory.
His eyes open, he turned and stepped into the chamber, and as if acting on instinct, he reached out with his mind and lifted barrels of water out of the way. Behind them, a small parcel rose into the air and flew across the room towards him. He seized it in his hands. Thank you, Nei.
And then he was back at Paseo Memorial Hospital, standing before his friends. He unwrapped the parcel, and taking one item in each hand, held Elsydeon and the Aero-Prism before him.
"This is what Lassic wants," he told his friends. "But he's not going to get them."
"Is that a video card?" Lance asked. Rolf glanced at him, wondering what nonsense Lance was speaking, and saw Shir's husband was looking to the floor, at the cloth that had held the parcel. Sure enough, wrapped in with the sword and the prism, there was a vidcard.
Rolf looked to the others in turn. On a basic level, he thought they probably all had a good idea, as he did, of what they would see on the card. They nodded to him, half giving permission, half giving encouragement, and Rolf walked to the room's video unit and inserted the card.
The screen -- hanging down from the ceiling -- was in a place where they could all see it. And the first thing they saw was a close-up of Lutz's eye, as if he were staring directly into the camera that filmed him.
They all laughed; they knew that Lutz was from another era, and he had never been entirely comfortable with newer technologies, especially since most were, technically, Mother Brain creations. There wasn't even a single automatic door in the entire Esper Mansion, despite the fact that those had been around since before he was born. On the screen, Lutz moved back a bit, glanced at an off-camera monitor, and said, "Oh!" suddenly realizing he had pushed record.
He sat down in a chair before the camera, straightened his Frad Mantle, and again glanced at the off-camera monitor. "Hello," he said to the camera. "If you are watching this, Rolf, then you obviously found my parcel. I hope that, if you watch this alone, you will later show it to the others, for this message is for all of you -- all of our brave warriors who have fought so tirelessly to defend Algo.
"If all of you are watching this, then Rolf has retrieved my parcel before I could retrieve it. Which means, in all probability, that I am dead."
Rolf looked to the floor and shook his head. Lutz had a plan for everything. How were they ever going to go on without him?
"What you must all know," Lutz went on, "is that for me, this... this is only temporary. This is why it was so important to get Kyle as far away from the mansion as we could. You see, Kyle... is me. Or at least he will be."
Everyone in the room traded puzzled looks, especially Shir and Lance. They both looked to their son, who was now smiling widely, and then returned their gaze to the screen. "Ever since I was fifteen years old, I have been storing my memories in an object called the Telepathy Ball. It is hidden deep in Esper Mansion. Rolf, you will find a map for getting there elsewhere on this card. But at the request of Master Noah, I began placing my memories in the Telepathy Ball specifically so that my knowledge would not be lost when I die. The very nature of the Algo system requires that someone be here every time Dark Force returns, ready and able to choose a defender. It must not be simply left to chance that a hero will arise to face the demon. There must be a guide, preparing the way, and I am that guide. I will always be that guide.
"This will not be forced on Kyle. Far from it, he must decide to do this for himself. If he refuses, so be it. Another will be chosen." He smiled. "But I know Kyle will not refuse. When he is eighteen years old, Kyle Moonseer will inherit my role and will take on leadership of the Espers. He may not live to be around another millennium from now, but he will live to pass on my memories and his to another. And they will continue to be passed on, until Dark Force is finally vanquished.
"Let this recording, then, serve as a warning. If the forces of evil have killed me, then they will be coming for you next, Rolf. If this is the case, then there is only one place on all of Motavia where Kyle, and the items in this parcel, will be safe.
"For many, many millennia before Alis Landale lived, there were... secret sects, for lack of a better term, of Protectors whose sole purpose in life was to combat Dark Force every one thousand years. There was a group of these Protectors from each of the three planets, and every one thousand years, they traveled to a ceremonial place, and combated Dark Force upon his arrival. They were known as the Desans.
"Somehow, the Desans were wiped out during the last battle before the time of Alis Landale, two thousand years ago, and my extensive studies have led me to believe that the Espers are all that remain of the Palman Desans. I have been able to uncover very, very little on the Dezorian Desans, and as for the Motavian Desans... in one of the greatest discoveries of my lifetime, I managed to locate their temple, the home they lived in, high in the mountains, hidden from the rest of the Motavians, for millennium after millennium.
"This Desan temple is one of the most sacred places in all of Algo. No creature born of darkness is powerful enough to enter the temple. That is why Kyle, and Elsydeon, and the Aero-Prism will be safe there. Please, Rolf, see to it they arrive there safely. Again, a map will be found on this card. It is Algo that we all fight for, and those two items and that child are the key to Algo's survival."
Lutz sighed, straightened his robe again. "That is all, except... if I am truly gone... I want each of you to know how proud I am, of all of you. None of you was forced to do all that you have done. Voluntarily, and of your own free will, you have all stepped forward to defend Algo from all evils. Dark Force. Mother Brain. The alien invaders. D'zkot. I wish I could reveal to you, here, who is behind the current insurrection of evil, but this I still do not know. Perhaps by the time you get this, you will know. But also know this: that Algo could not have greater heroes. May the system prevail, and may God bless you all."
The screen went black, and Lutz was taken from them once again. But the message had rejuvenated them, because they now knew that Lutz was still with them. Not through Kyle -- though he would live again, through Kyle, Kyle was still just a baby. No, as long as they fought for Algo, they knew Lutz would be with them in spirit.
As would the other heroes who had come before. Rolf, his Neisword in the scabbard at his side, held Elsydeon before him, closed his eyes, and offered a silent prayer. For his friend Lutz, and for Algo. Then he looked upon his assembled friends, who still looked to him as their leader.
"I think we know what needs to be done," Rolf announced. "It's late, so we'll rest for the night. But tomorrow morning, we take this fight to Lassic's doorstep. This reign of terror ends, once and for all. What Queen Landale and her comrades started a millennium ago, we end, tomorrow."
"What of this Desan temple?" Rudo asked.
"That's where you come in," Rolf smiled. "Rudo, my friend, I ask you to lead a team that will take Kyle and the Aero-Prism to this temple. I suspect it will not be easy. I suspect Lassic, if he has been reincarnated through the power of Dark Force, knows of this temple's powers more than even we do. I do not think he will let you take Kyle and the Aero-Prism there without a fight."
"Kyle and the Aero-Prism?" Rudo repeated. "What of Elsydeon?"
"It's coming with me," Rolf answered. "Tyler will take my team aboard the Landale to the Palman Asteroid Field, while I'll get there in the agents' shuttle, if we can get some high-power weaponry added to it overnight."
"That won't be necessary," Tyler spoke up. "All the time I repaired my ship after our last tussle with that dragon, I've been thinking about something. Something I heard about a couple of days ago. I don't think we'll need two ships, Rolf. I think we can all fly to the asteroid field in the Landale, and I think we'll have a big surprise for that dragon this time." He glanced at Rudo, "But I'm going to need you to pull some rank, in order to pull it off."
"Whatever you need," Rudo nodded.
"Then let's all get some rest," Rolf told them. "We need to be ready to punch back bright and early tomorrow morning. We delivered Lassic a setback today, but that's only going to make him come back stronger."
"Let him throw all he wants at us," Kain bragged. "We'll be ready for him."
Despite Kain's bravado, he knew the words were true. His friends had taken one of Lassic's Xe-A-Thouls, but Lassic had taken one of their own, as well. The greatest thing they could do to honor Lutz's memory was to defend Algo, no matter what the price. He knew, as Lutz had said on the video, that his friends were the greatest heroes Algo could ask for. And though they were silenced, with his mind, Rolf could vaguely sense the souls within Elsydeon.
He knew that they would be at his side tomorrow, as well.
You might call what I did mind rape. I prefer to say I gave Anna a new definition of the term, 'living hell.'
|Please send all comments and feedback to mike at ripplinger dot us|