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Chapter One

The sun felt warm on Chaz's face. He took in a deep breath and let the sweet smell of Aiedo's arboretum fill his lungs. The smell of plants and blooming flowers were all around. The sounds of children were present, too. His children. It had been a while since he had just enjoyed a day with his family. It had been too long in fact.

His daughter, Alys S. Ashley, was busy practicing her tracking skills. She was playing hide and seek with her younger brother, Orus. He enjoyed hiding from his sister. She looked at it as a chance to enhance her skills and have a little fun on the side. Orus had chosen to hide in a tree this time.

Chaz was extremely proud of his children. Alys had taken after her namesake and begun to train with slashers. She even used the very pair that had been in the hands of Alys Brangwin when she died. She trained very hard. The only teacher she had was Kyra who made it to Aiedo every month or two. At seventeen she had already proven to be most efficient. She had beaten some of the best hunters in the Guild.

Orus, on the other hand, had taken after his mother. At a thirteen he wasn't big enough to handle a sword. So to compensate he used a variation on the claws his mother used. Instead he used a long dagger blade that replaced the three bladed spikes. He had designed the weapon with the help of Chaz and Hahn. He called it a stinger. The device only showed how imaginative he was.

Chaz watched for a few more minutes as his children played their game. Just as he was ready to call them for lunch Chaz heard soft footsteps behind him. He quickly spun around reaching for his knives. He had taken a battle posture before he even knew who was sneaking up.

"Whoa, Chaz," called Rika. "I know you are wound up awful tight lately but I didn't think you'd feel threatened by your wife."

Chaz blushed and quickly sheathed his knives. Rika was right. He was far too jumpy. The first thing in the morning he would go to the Hunters' Guild and inform them he was taking a vacation.

Chaz did not take his eyes off of Rika. Her eyes still sparkled with that look of wonder and love. Though Chaz had met her twenty years ago, she had not aged a day. Alys and Rika looked more like sisters rather than mother and daughter.

"Alys," Chaz called to his daughter, "Stop taking it easy on your brother. Tag him and come eat your lunch before it gets cold."

After a few minutes, Alys walked out from the bushes. She was an odd mixture of her parents. Her short hair was red with heavy blonde streaks. She had her father's build and her mother's face. Though her ears were not pointed, they were black on the top portion of the disk. She had a defeated look adorned her face.

Rika looked at her daughter with concern. "What's wrong, Alys?"

"Orus beat me. When I looked toward where Dad's voice was coming from Orus dropped out of a tree and tagged me."

As if on cue Orus leaped out from behind the bushes. He had a large grin on his face. He quickly snapped his feet together, made a large sweeping gesture with his hand, and made an over pronounced bow. Orus did enjoy grand standing for his parents.

Orus's features were much darker than either of his parents. He had a few of their facial features, but overall he favored someone else in the family line. His dark bluish black hair was something neither of his parents had expected. He had let his hair grow long and wore it in a tail. He had taken great care to pull his hair back over his ears. Though his ears lacked the black coloring they were pointed and only a little shorter than his mother's.

Chaz let out a loud laugh. His son was getting better at this game all the time. He had learned to be more creative than his sister. Though, in a physical fight, she would almost always win.

"Well, Sweetie, he just taught you two valuable lessons," stated Chaz. "Your enemy is not always going to be in front of you. You must learn to expect anything. And don't let the small stuff distract you. One other thing, you don't ignore the small stuff either."

Chaz hugged both his children. He then led them to the place where Rika had prepared the picnic. They all sat down and began to eat. Rika had become a fair cook. Her sandwiches were her best.

Chaz was about to take a bite out of his sandwich when suddenly Chaz realized just how much he had. Once, he had almost given it all up before he had even found it. He had refused LeRoof's request to banish the Profound Darkness. If not for Rune and the Elsydeon, Chaz would have walked away. Chaz felt a wave of shame at that action. He looked at his children and thought how glad he was that Rune was there to help in that desperate time.

Chaz set down his food and looked at his family. The children were busy stuffing their faces while Rika nibbled at her food. Sweeping both his arms up and away from his body Chaz asked, "So, where would you like to go for a vacation? Think about it quick and we'll leave in the morning."

Orus, Alys, and Rika all looked at each other. Rika declared that she wanted to visit with Wren and Demi at Zelan. Alys wanted to go visit Kyra at Esper Mansion. Orus said he wanted to Termi and see the sights.

"Well, that's going to be difficult," Chaz stated with a teasing edge to his voice. "One vacation and three different places. There's no way I can talk ya'll into one place?"

In unison the three looked at Chaz and hollered, "NO!" They began laughing.

Chaz made a shocked face. "None of you are going to give on this. Guess that means I'll have to decide. Hmm . . . Tell you what, I'll tell the Guild I'll be on vacation for three weeks and we can spend a week in each place. Sound good?"

The children looked at each other and then to Rika. Rika smiled and looked at Chaz. "That will do."

"Great. As soon as we get home pack your bags. In the morning we'll be off to Zelan."

* * * * *
Hahn stood outside the principal's office. He tapped his foot while he waited. Professor Holt had been in conference with the principal for over an hour. Hahn had no idea why he had been summoned to this meeting. Then to make matters worse they had made Hahn wait outside.

Hahn jumped when he heard the door squeak. When the door swung open, Professor Holt stepped out and looked at Hahn. He waited silently for the Professor to speak. The Professor simply motioned for him to enter.

Hahn entered the office. Sitting at his desk, the principal stared silently at some documents. There were two other gentlemen standing near the desk. One was tall and lanky with a pale complection. The other was so average looking he would seem at home anywhere.

"Hahn," the principal said. "These gentlemen are members of the Motavian Academy Board of Executives. They're here to discuss reopening the Birth Valley excavation site. Since you and Professor Holt have the most knowledge about that site, we wanted your input on whether or not it is feasible, safe, and worthwhile. We've come to a deadlock and yours will be the deciding vote. What do you say?"

Hahn stood in shocked silence. He had once considered the possibility of reopening the site and studying the technology inside. He did not, however, want the people at the academy gaining knowledge they were not ready to handle. Also, after the incidents leading up to the Black Wave, he wondered if they were ethically responsible enough.

Instead of answering he looked at Professor Holt. "What is your opinion on the matter, sir?"

Holt stood in silence for a few moments. He stroked his beard thoughtfully and his eyes had that staring inward look to them. It was only after a good five minutes that he spoke.

"Well, the facility within Birth Valley wasn't in the best shape to begin with. Add to that the robots we encountered weren't that friendly. Not to mention the fact that the A.I. in charge blew himself up in order to seal off the place. I have severe reservations about re-entering the dig. But on the other hand the technology and data that may have remained intact could provide our society with untold advances in societal, medical, and military endeavors. That could make it well worth the risk. I'm voting to go."

Hahn considered the Professor's words. He was right on all counts. Hahn was at a loss for a decision. What kind of trouble would they find if the entered Birth Valley again? What gains would they forever lose if they didn't? He needed more time and a little advice before giving an answer.

"Gentlemen, I'm afraid I can't give you an answer at this time. I do have some . . . 'colleagues' that are more knowledgeable that I would like to consult with first. With your permission I will depart at once to confer with them."

The principal nodded and dismissed Hahn.

Hahn returned to his house to quickly pack. Since he had never learned the technique 'RYUKA' he would have to make this trip the hard way. Even with a land vehicle like the land rover it would take a full day to get to Aiedo. Now that this day was almost over it will take a full night. He had to reach Aiedo and talk with Rika and Chaz about this.

Before Hahn left, he wrote a short letter to send to Saya in Krup. He didn't want her to worry about him while he was away. After he put the letter in the mail, he left for Aiedo. The sun was just beginning to set.

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