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The Ladeo Tower
by Philip Greaves

- “Well, I have some business with Grandfather Dorin here, so I’ll say so long here! Oh yeah, pip squeak…" added Rune, about to exit Dorin’s tent.

- “I’ve had enough of you!”

- “Don’t get any silly thoughts, like taking on Zio, into that little head!”

- “Huh?”

Silence fell over the room, each registering Rune’s words differently. Gryz’s interest was sparked, and anger flashed briefly at the mention of the magician’s name. Both Hahn Mahlay and Chaz Ashley’s faces showed extreme bewilderment at this unexpected announcement. Grandfather Dorin stood outside, looking at the horizon. If any of the Palmans had seen his face, they would’ve seen that his quietude was merely a façade. Inside, he was as tense as a coil. He didn’t fully grasp why Rune was warning the young Palman against Zio, but the Esper never did anything without reason. Surely some ill fate was about to befall them.

Alys looked at her old friend quizzically. Rune’s words were aimed at Chaz, but she sensed that there was also a message in there for her. What though? She had no intention on confronting Zio. Out of her little group, she alone knew the real extent of his power. It could go far beyond wiping out a rural Motavian town.

Eventually, Gryz broke the uneasy silence.

- “Guys…”

- “At this stage of the game, you’re no match for him! Maybe our paths will cross again. Alys…”

Startled at his sudden change of tone, she let out an inaudible gasp, a rare display of emotion. Checking herself, she looked up at Rune. He was looking at her intensely, a look she knew only too well. It was a look of affection, of immense respect, and even of sadness all rolled in one, the kind of emotions that only Alys Brangwin would witness from the Esper. Purposely, she hardened her tone.

- “Yeah.”

- “Take care.”

There was so much she’d have wanted to say to him, but in front of the others, that was out of the question. As always, pretences came first.

- “Me…taking on Zio?”

Alys shot an angry glance at Chaz. Granted, he hadn’t a clue what he was interrupted, but she wished he hadn’t broken their connection. She turned back to Rune.

- “Thanks Rune.”

Their bond had never felt so strong than after those two words.

* * * * *

Rapidly, Rune and Grandfather Dorin left the monger’s tent and headed to the outskirts of the village. Rune forced himself not to look back; he knew too well what would be going on in Alys’s head. A string of questions that would remain unanswered, yet at the same time a mutual comprehension and respect of Rune’s silence. She understood it. She probably felt also an immense sadness, equal to the one that he was feeling right now. Dorin’s low but firm voice halted his train of thought.

- “Don’t think about it, Rune. Not now. Wait until we are far away from here. Right now, you’re just inflicting unnecessary pain upon yourself.”

Rune nodded imperceptibly. They headed to a small cave slightly west of Tonoe, caved up in the same way as was the entrance to the cave leading to Tonoe. One Flaeli later, the entrance was cleared.

It was a tiny cave, barely a crack in the mountain. Oval-shaped, the strong sunlight from outside sufficed to light up the single room. Dorin headed towards one of the interior walls, and tapped it gently three times with his staff, muttering a Motavian word. The stone wall started to gently hum, then vibrate, then shake violently, until finally it crumbled on the floor. Inside the wall was a stone pedestal on which was a small, square-shaped, titanium box. Grandfather Dorin took a key from out one of his numerous pockets and fumbled with the lock. Silently, the lock clicked, and Dorin opened the box.

Inside it was a key. A large, heavy, rustic key that looked like it had seen better days. Two things distinguished it. The first was that it was made out of pure laconium, the strongest material in Algo. The other was what it unlocked. Dorin took it and tossed it to Rune.

- “There you go, Rune. The key to the Ladea Tower. Now we’d better be on our way.”

- “I knew it would be safe in your care.”

- “A promise is a promise. Zio would’ve never gotten his hands on it. I wouldn’t have let him get hold of something as important as this.”

- “Let’s go to the Ladea Tower then…”

The two men left the cave, carefully re-blocking it. The trip through the cave leading to the outside world from Tonoe was short and uneventful. They shortly arrived at the quicksand southeast of the cave.

* * * * *

Rune looked out. He couldn’t see an end to the quicksand; it seemed to stretch out forever. As much as he knew Dorin and could trust him in just about anything, he couldn’t see how he was going to pull this one off. He found it ridiculous that he, as the fifth-generation Lutz, could manipulate the elements or even revive the fallen, but could not levitate a few inches and get across a patch of quicksand. He waited for Dorin to do something about the quicksand, or even say something, but to no avail.

- “So?”

- “So…what?”

- “So…how do you intend on getting us over the Monsen quicksand, Dorin?”

- “Ah, Esper…” chuckled Dorin. “Not all Magic (Rune could hear the capital letter) involves smashing boulders and fireballs leaping from hands… This is where Motavian magic comes into play.”

Dorin tucked his staff away, and motioned Rune to hold his hand, which Rune did diligently. Grandfather Dorin closed his eyes and muttered a single word of Motavian language. Rune didn’t exactly make any sense of it, but it sounded something like “Gaqka”. He could always ask him later what it meant. The two men then started to levitate about thirty inches about the ground and advance forwards.

- “And stay alert, in case a sandworm tries to attack us…”

- “You never said anything about the possibility of sandworm attacks!”

- “There’s always the possibility of sandworm attacks. Just…stay alert and get ready to fire a few fireballs if need be, and that should keep them at bay to give us enough time to get across the quicksand.”

All along their crossing of the quicksand, Rune kept looking around frantically, rendered jumpy by Dorin’s matter-of-fact way of describing the sandworms. However, only one or two sandworms came close enough to require Rune’s magic. Usually, the sandworms were just bobbing up and down in the sand, just as Leviathans bobbed up and down in Motavia’s oceans.

Finally, after a few minutes, Rune and Grandfather Dorin came to the other side of the quicksand. Up north, they could see the decrepit village of Monsen and…that was pretty much all there was to see. Miles and miles of sand surrounding them, a mountain chain to the east, the same as everywhere else on Motavia.

Rune himself was in a hurry on accomplishing the task at hand and getting to the Ladea Tower, or at least get to Termi before nightfall. Dorin, though, didn’t possess Rune’s physical condition. Undeniably a solid and sturdy man, but he had less stamina than the Esper and wouldn’t be able to get to Termi without a small rest. Even if the “rest” in question involved a drink of some sort.

- “Ah, there’s Monsen, Rune! Come on, I could use a drink. Do you know that, thought it’s a not very well-known fact, Monsen does some of the best Caron liquid on Motavia? It’s a real treat! You have to taste it!”

It is said that, in their old age, most people rediscover their child persona. It seemed certainly to hold true with Grandfather Dorin. He was marvelling about a drink that originated by fermenting Fanbite blood and adding it with mead in the same way that a toddler marvels about a new puppy.

Few words were spoken during their stay in Monsen. Dorin was tired, and constantly half asleep, whilst Rune was carefully thinking about his mission, the Ladea Tower, the Psycho Wand and Alys. They ended up spending the night in Monsen’s shabby inn, thanks to Dorin who’d drank a bit too much and was as drunk as he was tired.

* * * * *

The next morning, the two men rose early. Not a soul was stirring in the village as they left the safety of the village and ventured on to the barren wildness, with Dorin in the lead. Whilst Rune knew Termi as a town and vaguely knew where it was situated on Motavia, he didn’t know exactly how to get there, thereby rendering the Ryuka technique useless. Everytime he’d been to peaceful Termi, it had been with Alys, and she’d always used a Telepipe. Dorin, having been to Termi en route to the Ladea Tower many times, and having walked to it from Tonoe, knew precisely how to get there. After many hours of near complete silence, Dorin finally questioned Rune about his plan.

- “Would you care to tell me more about the Psycho Wand, Rune, or must I pry the information from you by force?”

- “Huh?” Confusion was not a common expression in Rune Walsh. Realising it was only Dorin speaking, and looking at his amused face, he relaxed and told Dorin about the laconium wand. The second he opened his mouth; Dorin knew that he was no longer speaking only to Rune, but also to Lutz.

- “The Psycho Wand was one of the four laconium weapons that defeated the first Dark Force, wielded by the very first group of Protectors, including the first generation Lutz called Noah. Once peace was once more over Algo, the Protectors gradually scattered, as did their weapons. Though it is not certain, it seems that the warrior Odin installed himself on Motavia and lived secluded from society until his death. Myau the Musk Cat went back to Dezolis and rejoined the tribe of Musk Cats that lived in the outskirts of Skure. As for Alis and Noah, …” Rune paused to catch his breath. “they took some…precautions, should Dark Force arise again. Alis entrusted her laconium blade to the Esper and left for the planet Copto. Noah went to what would become Esper Mansion and worked on the laconium sword and wand. He imbued them with telemental magic, Esper magic, if you will and transformed then, finally making them legendary Esper weapons. The laconium sword was renamed Elysdeon and the laconium wand became the Psycho Wand. The Psycho Wand’s unique magic is to nullify any evil barriers that the Darkness or its servants can invoke. After its creation (though rebirth may be better applied), the Psycho Wand was given to the Motavians, as their Artefact of the Seal. Elysdeon was kept in the very heart of the Esper Mansion, behind Lutz’s chamber.

- “And you hope to get hold of the Psycho Wand before Zio does?”

- “Yes. The Psycho Wand is the only tool that can destroy Zio’s Barrier. If he got his hands on it, he would be invincible, as he’d have in his possession the only weapon that could conceivably harm him. And also, there’s…another reason.”

- “I can tell that. What were you trying to tell her back in Tonoe? And are you sure she got the message, anyway?”

- “Of course she got it. Alys is a smart girl. Her sidekick, though, is another matter. She goes easy on him. The little idiot doesn’t realise that he’s one of the few with whom she doesn’t pretend and put up her wall. The whole situation and his enthusiasm are going to get the better of him. Seeing all the trouble Zio’s caused (and he’ll see it as trouble, and not as disasters.), he’ll think “Hey, why don’t we rid Motavia of this bad guy anyway?” and off he’ll go to play the hero. And Alys is going to actually follow him, which is why I thought it best to give the warning directly to him and with a side-note to Alys. And obviously, if they go up against Zio without the Psycho Wand, you can figure out the results. At least one (but most likely more) of them will get hit by the Black Energy Wave, condemning them to a slow and painful death. And as much as I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer such pain, I will especially not let that happen to Alys! If anything happened to her, I would never forgive myself… Time’s a crucial factor here, Dorin. Hopefully, I can get my hands on the Psycho Wand before they confront Zio. Then, all should be well.”

- “Well, Termi shouldn’t be far now. Just another small patch of quicksand to cross and that’s it. No fear, we’ll be there by nightfall.”

The rest of the journey to Termi passed in silence. Even the quicksand passage was uneventful. Rune just seemed to be in another world and Dorin thought it best not to disturb him.

As predicted, they got to Termi by nightfall. They quickly checked in at the inn and, tired by their travel, fell asleep almost immediately.

* * * * *

When Rune woke up, it was late morning and Dorin had already risen. A note laid on the table indicating that he’d gone for a walk in Termi and giving the meeting point atop the Hill Of Courage. As Rune left the inn, he was almost blinded by the brightness of Algo’s sun. Anywhere else on Motavia, even including most towns, the sun was harsh and merciless, and shade was welcomed. In Termi however, the sun sparkled and bathed the whole town in a beautiful light. Today was no exception. The sun was glistening, the gentle breeze brushed gently against the grass, and the birds were singing. It was truly going to be a glorious day in Termi today.

There was no one in Termi that Rune wished to visit, or any place he wished to see. Except for the meeting point. He sat down on a bench nearby, and stared at the statue. Alis Landale, heroine of yore who vanquished an evil wizard… It was just as well that that was all the Termi citizens knew. Rune suspected that if they knew the whole story, the Bayamare gift shop would probably also be selling Nero-Knives or models of laconium pots… It was interesting that, throughout all of Motavia, only Termi remembered the legend of Alis. Most of Motavia had forgotten about her and the other Protectors for over a thousand years.

He must have been staring at Alis’s statue intensely, because a passer-by sat down next to him. He too looked at her statue and said, admiringly.

- “Beautiful, isn’t she?”

- “Yes. The stone mason must have been very skilled.”

- “You could say that. Old Hurz really invested his heart and soul into this statue. But even he couldn’t do justice to the Heroine’s beauty. She was…” He was interrupted by a woman’s shout. “Oops, that’s my wife. Have to go. Nice speaking with you.”

- “You too…”

Rune followed the man with his eyes, watching him rejoin his wife and child. He turned back to the statue, inwardly chuckling. Maybe he’d judged the Termi citizens too highly. They may remember her story, but they couldn’t even remember her name… And as much as he searched Lutz’s memory, Rune couldn’t recall Alis being in her mid-twenties when she fought Lassic. Still, the stone mason had had good intentions…

- “I hope I’m not interrupting a reunion of old friends?” enquired Dorin, coming up the hill.

- “No. One of us was missing anyway…” answered Rune, standing up. “Goodbye, Alis. I’ll be seeing you.” He petted Myau and followed Dorin out of Termi.

* * * * *

- “It isn’t far now. Just a few hours heading west and we’ll be there. You can even see it. Look!”

Rune looked. The top of the Ladea Tower could be perceived on the horizon. It wouldn’t take long to get there now.

- “Hold on, Alys… I’ll be with you soon.”

The sight of the end of their trip gave them new vigour and they both walked briskly, nearly running towards the tower. The trip seemed to be over in no time. Before he even realised it, Rune was standing in front of the sealed doors of the Ladea Tower. Panting, Dorin finally caught up with him.

- “Sorry to be bossy with you Dorin, but there’s no time for you to catch your breath. Open the doors to the Ladea Tower.”

Still panting, Dorin nodded and approached the doors. He applied each of his furry hands on each door and closed his eyes. He started to speak in Motavian which transformed his voice into a tone far more deep and raucous that he usually had. His mysterious speech was slow, yet with a sense of threat in it. His voice and words gradually became more frantic and frenzied, until finally, his voice was a booming, cavernous yell. Finally, he pulled out his staff and pointed it at the doors. Rune couldn’t hear what it was; he’d blocked his ears because of the deafening chant a while back. Maybe when Dorin said “open the Tower”, he meant destroy it...

A blast of energy sprang from the staff and struck the doors that seemed to absorb the energy. A great wind rose and flung the doors open. Amidst all this, Dorin stood, strong and proud, one of the most powerful people of Motavia. After the doors were definitely opened, Dorin collapsed on one knee, exhausted from the effort. Rune rushed over to help him, but Dorin put up a hand to stop him.

- “Never mind me, I’ll be fine. Just go in there, get to the top, and get your hands on the Psycho-Wand.”

Nodding briefly, Rune got back up and hurried inside, looking back one last time at his friend. Don’t worry Alys. I’ll be there soon. Just stay out of Zio’s way…

Dorin watched the Esper disappear up the first flight of steps, and then got up.

- “Good luck, Rune.” Thoughtfully, he added “May Alis watch over you.”

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