By Draco

Phantasy Star 2.5: Warriors
The Hunter's Chronicles Part II

Hoookay, this is probably the sh*ttiest part in the series... probably worth a grade 3 or 4 out of 10, but it's short, and part 4 is better... ;>


Shane sighed and grabbed Jun's wrist as the thief tried to undo her hair-ribbon for the who-knowsth time.

"I said cut it out."

"Don't be such a bore!"

"I'm not. But right now, I'm working! So don't bother me, okay?"

"Sure, sure..." Yeah, sure, Shane thought. For about five seconds. Her gaze shifted and refocused on the building behind Jun.

"Get out of the way! I can't see a thing."

"Sorry." Jun took several steps to the right. Shane Gray sighed, took a sip from her water bottle, and kept waiting. As expected, Jun couldn't keep from trying to steal the ribbon again, and Shane had to block his attempts several times before he tired. Shane sighed again. Being a hunter sounded good when you heard of the glorious adventures, and the fabulous rewards reaped by the skilled, but who wanted to sit in the middle of a desert observing a building that had been still and quiet since the Collapse?

Then, suddenly, it wasn't still and quiet anymore.

"Jun! Call Dark, now! I see something moving over there!" Shane whispered. Jun instantly grabbed the transmitter medallion hanging around his neck and pressed the button labelled 'D' for several seconds. The transmitter was Jun's part of the payment from Professor Holt, a scientist who had accidentally discovered the Bio-plant beyond Zema, and from there followed an android named Wren to help him - not, as one might expect when hearing the word 'android', 'it', for Wren seemed almost human - manage the environmental control systems of Algo. Shane, Jun, Shane's brother Dark, and the half-Palman-half-Motavian Tirom had been employed by the professor as his bodyguards and guides at the time, and as he left rather unexpectedly, professor Holt had not been able to actually pay them, but had sent them various useful items instead of money.

Four rings were linked to the device: when Jun pressed a certain button, the ring tied to that button vibrated. Shane wore one of the rings, Dark the second, and Tirom the third. The fourth ring had no wearer yet, and none of the four knew if it would ever have one. This time, the signal Jun used was a special message: enemy(?) seen. Dark, observing the second of two small, cubical metal buildings, would be with them within a minute.

The button blinked a couple of times, a muted, green light that indicated that Dark had pressed a small stone set in his own ring - the only response possible over transmitter communication - telling Jun that he was on his way. A moment later, a greenish shape to their left blinked into existence, solidifying into two human shapes - Dark and Tirom.

"It's moving?" Tirom asked, letting go of Dark's hand, which she had been holding in order to be able to teleport him.

"Something in it is moving," Shane said with a smile. "The house seems to be quite slow, though. Maybe, if we sit here long enough, it will start moving too..."

"Don't be daft," Dark spat. "This assignment is bad enough without your so-called humour."

"Don't be such a bore," Shane teased, mimicking Jun's voice.

"I may be a swine," Dark replied absentmindedly, "but I'm not a boar."

"Yeah. But seriously," Shane said, "nothing seem so actually happen down there. There's something I think is a man... he's wearing armour, or maybe he's a robot like the ones we met under Zema, but he just walked out and stopped. He's leaning against the wall... I don't know what's going on, but I think he's waiting for something."

"Like what?" Dark challenged. "We have a house of our own to get bored about, you know..."

"I don't know... but I have a feeling we'll find out soon," Shane muttered, squinting at the building and the man outside. "I don't think Wren would have contacted us if he wasn't expecting trouble..."

There was that. Wren - 'the caretaker of Algo', as Jun had put it - had contacted the Grays via the thief's transmitter device. It had come as a surprise for them; no one had known that such communication was possible. Wren had asked them to go to a certain location in the desert, and preferably take Tirom with them, too. They had done that, not knowing why he wanted them to, and had found two cubic buildings some five kilometres apart. Wren had asked them to "observe the buildings they would find at the place he had mentioned", or something quite like that, and for several hours, that was what they had been doing. They all believed Wren to know what he was doing, but there was a possibility that he was mistaken. But now, it seemed, they no longer had reason to doubt the information.

"Well, that guy doesn't seem too threatening," Dark muttered. "What are we doing here, anyway?"

No one bothered to answer.

* *

Unaware that he was being observed, Mark wiped the sweat from his brow and straightened his back, something made difficult by the antique chestplate he was wearing, then leaned against the sun-warmed wall. Damn machines! And damn him, for wanting those machines! He didn't know why, but somehow the complex seemed so inviting now... almost as if something - or someone - was calling to him from inside. In a way, it was. But Mark didn't believe in old legends, and even if he did, he still hadn't heard this one. And even if he had believed, even if he had heard this particular legend, it was too much to take seriously. Techniques were rare; magic had disappeared over eleven hundred years ago, and that something magic was drawing him to it, much like a lodestone drew iron, never crossed his mind.

In a way, it was a pity that it didn't, for had it done that, Mark might have been able to protect him self from its effects, thereby avoiding some of the consequences. But as he had no idea that anything outside his own mind was controlling him, Mark had no defence. None at all.

* *

Is he not done yet?

Patience. He will be.

Not soon enough! I feel eyes upon us!

No eyes. There are no one in this day and age who has the power to spy on us... The Protectors are gone, and no one will come for half a millennium. Be calm. When the time of the new Protector comes, we will be safe.

I do not believe it will be so easy. I feel a power...

Nonsense! We are magic! What technique, what machine, what weapon could harm us? We are immortal!

We might be. But then... if we are, why should we be alone? I think your overconfidence might one day be your undoing. And I feel danger.

But even if my confidence will indeed destroy me one day, that day is a long time from now. For now, let us enjoy the freedom soon to be bestowed upon us. Soon we will walk Motavia as rulers.

May be. But before that day has come when we do, I will doubt. And nothing will keep me from it.

Have it your way. I will laugh at you when you at last confess your errors, but until that day, I will be patient.

* *

"I wonder what's in there..." Dark murmured. "I think... I don't want to know. The place seems to radiate... menace. I wonder if there are any of the before-the-collapse killing machines in there?"

"Rubbish," Shane snapped. "Five hundred years out here would corrode even Wren." I think, she added in her mind.

"Not necessarily," Tirom corrected. "In an air-tight room, even regular carbon steel could survive for quite some time. And I seem to remember a certain door in a certain cave..."

No one could deny that. The door had been from sometime before the collapse, and it had been made from stainless steel; a useful alloy, the formula of which had yet to be rediscovered. And if any of the murder-machines were made from that material...

"Nah, they wouldn't waste it on that," Shane said dismissively.

"We'll see," Dark replied.

* *

Mark decided his break was over, went inside and picked up his shovel. There was a lot of dirt around the trap door he needed to open, and most of it was stone. But he was almost through - just ten more minutes ought to do the trick. Thrusting the shovel's blade deep into the loose gravel, he pulled with all his might. A large stone moved away from the trap door. Sighing, Mark started digging around the next stone.

* *

The group split up again, Tirom returning to the second house with Dark, and Shane leaned back on the sand dune. Jun, who seemed quite bored, made a half-hearted attempt to steal her hair ribbon again, but didn't keep it up when the huntress told him to cut it out. Shane closed her eyes. She was just going to rest for a minute. She was just going to -

"Wake up! Shane! Shane, wake up!" Jun, seeing no effect to his words, tugged at Shane's sword belt. Obviously, that worked - Shane was instantly awake, grabbed his hand and twisted it into a painful position. As she saw the bewildered look on his face, she let go and turned to watch the building instead. There was a faint sound...

"Get Dark!" she hissed. Jun pressed the buttons marked 'D' and 'T' repeatedly, and didn't stop until the green light of Tirom's Ryuka blinked, dropping the hunters almost in the thief's lap.

"Now what?" Dark growled.

* *

A short while earlier...

Mark had removed the last stone, and was examining the shiny metal underneath with great satisfaction. Now, all he needed to do was to open it. There was a handle... but no lock. He grabbed the handle, pulled, and suddenly fell back, hitting the wall, as the trap door opened much more easily than he had thought it would. He got up, brushed the sand from his clothes, and looked down. There was a ladder, and strange light that seemed to be coming from nowhere... He descended, holding on to the shovel as if it was a weapon that could protect him from anything he could encounter in that mysterious underground whatever-it-was. For a Palman, Mark was a brave man.

Bravery did him little good, though, as two armour-clad men appeared, pointed to his head with some kind of metal wands, and did something that sent fire flying through the air from the wands. Mark dodged the flames, then ran, not wanting to rely on his slightly corroded chestplate to protect him from this strange fire. The men followed him, but they were slow and he could easily outrun them.

But running madly was not a solution. After three or four turns, Mark was lost. He didn't stop running, though, but rather speeded up. He might be lost, but lost was better then dead - they wouldn't catch him!

After a while, he found a room with a door in the far end. The door looked somehow... out of place in this room, as it was made from some other kind of material; it looked almost like... silver? But why would anyone make a door from silver - how could anyone even find that much silver? There were runes and signs on the door, strange writing Mark couldn't comprehend, and in some places the metal looked as if it had been scratched by claws. What kind of animal could do something like that? Mark approached the door. It seemed to pull at him, even more so than the house itself had done...

As he was about to touch it, he heard a sound from behind. Then there was red light and heat, and a beam of ruby-red incandescence struck the silver(?) gate -

Which remained untouched. Mark spun around, having no time to consider the strangeness of this occurrence, and faced not one, not two, but four armoured men. He backed away...

He reached the door...

His fingers found the handle and turned it...

He opened the door, slipped inside, and shut it just as two of the men fired again. The click! of the door was the most soothing sound he had heard for ages (or so it seemed). He was standing in utter darkness...

But wait...

There was light! Light like the flame of a candle or torch, some twenty meters away! Mark cautiously stepped closer, and saw...

If it wasn't an altar, it still had quite a close resemblance to one. On it, there were two orbs of glass. It was the orbs that emitted the light. Each orb was about fifteen centimetres across, and seemed to contain fire, the left one slightly more red-coloured, the right more yellowish than normal flames. Mark took one last step, so that he was standing right in front of the plain, black-and-white- striped stone table. The stone seemed to be totally black, as if the white stripes were only floating on the outside. He touched the stone to see if they would move, but found the white stone as hard as the black.

... Set us free ...

He stepped back, gasping.

... We are trapped ... Set us free! The light burning is our life essence, captured by an evil techmaster centuries ago! ...

"How do I set you free?" Mark asked, never thinking that the speaker might lie.

... Smash our prisons! ... The accursed light orbs hold us trapped; with them gone we will be free! ... Release us and you shall be rewarded! ...

Mark hefted his heavy shovel, lifted it over his head, and brought it down hard. The orbs shattered, scattering many-coloured crystal shards far beyond the area lit by the imprisoned fire.

As the shards landed, sounding like hailstones as they clicked on the hard floor, two hideous, transparent images standing behind and to each side of Mark solidified, and began to close on him.

The red shape reached him first, its clawed hand striking him between the shoulder blades. The armour did nothing to prevent the attack from striking its mark. There was no apparent damage, but Mark stiffened and went pale. The creature had absorbed all his life force, and now it reversed the procedure - possessing the body of its victim, entering it. The yellow shape seemed unhappy for some reason, for its body - still consisting of light - whirled about and around itself, while a low, keening noise sounded. Mark - or rather, the creature which now wore his body - smiled.

"We will get you a body," it promised.

I want a strong one! A warrior! A magician!

"A warrior. Magicians no longer exist."

We shall see.

* *

Mark's body opened the door. It saw, as it did this, something that Mark hadn't seen: long, sooty claw-marks, as if claws of flame had scratched the metal. For the sake of his soul, it was a pity he hadn't seen them.

The four androids awaited Mark outside the room, and they were not disappointed (had they been able to feel anything at all, that is), for Mark opened the door and stepped out.

The laser rifles fired once. Four rays of blinding bright light struck his face and chest. Mark smiled, looked down at the holes in his shirt, and tore it open, revealing smooth, undamaged skin.

"You can do better," he said.

The androids fired again; three of them employing the laser rifles again and the fourth using a small, shoulder-mounted grenade launcher. The room exploded in smoke and fire. But when it faded, the man was still unharmed. His clothing was tattered and burned, but his skin showed no sign of flames, shrapnel or explosion.

A yellow shape darted out through the door, striking one droid in the face. The machine's electric supply was instantaneously absorbed, and the machine froze. But the yellow shadow growled in disgust, pulled back and disappeared into the room again as it sensed that this was just metal, not flesh; useless for its purpose.

"I grow tired of this," Mark's voice stated. The droids raised their weapons again, and Mark pointed to the one using the grenade launcher. "Flaeili."

A bolt of fire, brighter than the two laser rays that struck the magician's impervious body, hit home and blew the droid into molten slag.

"Nafoi."

A second firebolt lanced from Mark's hands, destroying a second android. The last machine fired again, with no more effect than the earlier attempts, and the man once more cast a powerful technique: "Nagaj."

The machine seemed to glow yellow for a second; then it started, despite its solid stainless steel body, to corrode. It turned into dust in seconds, and Mark walked through the room as if the battle had never been fought. A yellow lightshape followed him, and soon they reached the trap door leading to freedom.

* *

"I hear the sounds of a battle," Dark said after a while. "I'm sure of it. That sound... it sounds like a ray-rod - a laser, Wren called it? - and that must've been some kind of explosion. What are we going to do?"

"Wait," Shane suggested. "We wouldn't know who to help, anyway. Besides, Wren only told us to watch."

"Coward," Dark teased, but said nothing about examinations. After a while, the sounds stopped.

"It's over," Tirom muttered.

"We don't know. For all I know, the winner could be here any moment... and want a fight," Dark observed. "Let's stay in sight of that place... but out of sight for anyone coming out."

"Like here," Tirom said, smiling.

"Yah. Sumph'ng like dat," Dark said, mimicking the grotesque accent of a Motavian trader he had once met. Tirom laughed, but silently.

* *

I feel them again! Someone is watching! the yellow lightshape said.

"Where?" asked its companion, the one who had stolen Mark's body. "Are there any humans in sight? Or is it your imagination again?"

Hss! Watch your tongue! I sense life nearby; whether it's a living creature or an astral body sent by a magician I cannot tell.

"Living creatures," Mark said. "Remember, there are no mages here. The last ones disappeared a millennium ago. We have been here for almost two thousand years, and humanity has grown weak while we were imprisoned. This time, no Esper will oppose us!"

I believe you are right - this time. But remember, before you start to kill - I shall have my pick first.

"As you wish. Come; let us investigate this source of life. Maybe you will have your warrior, after all."

* *

"There's someone by the door..."

Jun's observation caused everybody else to turn away from their conversation and focus on the building. It appeared he was correct; something yellowish, almost transparent passed the opening. Then something else exited the building, this one a solid, man-shaped object. It was still too far off for them to see clearly, but at least it wasn't a giant murder-machine. Of course, it could still be a murder-machine, but not too big for them to handle. The shape stepped out into the sunlight and they saw...

"It's human, at least," Shane said. "And... it's naked? No, wearing skin-coloured clothes is more likely." The figure was coloured in a bronze-brown hue; the colour most Palmans turned under Mota's sun. The hunters strained their eyes and ears to see or hear something more, but the figures were still too far away. But they was closing... and the yellow figure followed it, a shape that seemed made from fire and cast an eerie light around it even in full sunlight.

"He - it - is heading straight for us," Tirom said in a quiet voice. "Could it be a coincidence, you think?"

"No way," Dark replied. "He's far too determined - he's going our way. Tirom... can you transport us over... there?" He pointed to a dune a hundred and some meters away. The blue-furred woman shielded her eyes from the light with her hands, looked at the dune, then nodded.

"I can do it. It's close enough."

"Then do it," the hunter commanded. He grabbed Jun's hand, then Tirom's, and the half-Motavian beckoned for Shane to hold on to something. She took Jun's other hand in both her own, and Tirom spoke a word:

"Ryuka."

The world faded into darkness, then became bright green, then faded in again. The dune wasn't too different from the first, but Jun noticed the largest difference - he stepped on a small cactus.

"Mmph!"

Silence, Dark mouthed without sound. Jun nodded, but glared angrily at the cactus. Dark looked over the edge of the dune - and saw the man heading straight towards it.

"He's following us!" he whispered. "Get ready for battle... I don't know if his intentions are friendly, so we'd better be prepared."

It took the man five minutes to reach them, and as he got closer, the hunters saw that he was indeed naked, or almost - he was wearing some shredded and burned cloth, barely adequate for modesty. The man seemed untouched by whatever force that had destroyed his garb. And his companion...

The beast was horrible to look at. It seemed to disturb the light and air around it, so that it was never possible to see it fully, but its appearance was one of living flames. And it was possible to see that it was roughly man-shaped, with long arms and short legs. Five white flames in the outer parts of each arm seemed to function as fingers - or claws. The whole being seemed to radiate sinister menace, but Dark wondered why. It was quite beautiful, actually... but it also looked deadly.

"Stay hidden," he said, "and let me greet this strange man. Maybe he'll turn out to be a nice guy."

"Be careful," Shane said as she crept down from the dune, followed by Tirom and Jun. "You know nothing of him."

"But you know me; I'm always careful," Dark said, smiling. He stood up, and, as the strangers reached the dune, said: "Hello, wanderer. Are you in need of aid?"

Yes! I want this one!

Dark recoiled, feeling as if someone had struck him across the face. A voice -?

"Then take it," the man said, and the yellow shape started running. It soon reached Dark, who was still recovering from the shock of that incredible menace in the voice. The creature raised its hands -

A sword came flying through the air, hitting the thing between the arms, where a normal person's chest would be located. The weapon stuck, but seemed to cause no damage. The hands, raised to strike at Dark, grasped the hilt and pulled. The blade slid out, smoking, and the yellow being threw it away. Its hands rose again, but Dark was now holding his shortsword in one hand and Laconian claw in the other. It was obvious to anyone with an eye for such things that he wouldn't be an easy target, but the thing attacked anyway.

As he blocked the attack, Dark felt an incredible heat rush through his weapons, up his arms, towards his heart, and as the heat reached his chest he almost fainted from the pain. Gasping, he pulled away, discarding his sword. It was of no help; the claw seemed to protect him a bit, though, so he kept it. Striking out with the Laconian weapon, he hit his enemy's face. The yellow flame-thing seemed to feel some pain, but wasn't visibly harmed. Dark cursed, backflipped several times to gain distance, then, cursing again, started casting techniques.

"Foi!"

The fireball, while not an attack that seemed very logical to use against this foe, struck home, as he had known it would.

The red flames disappeared into the yellow ones, and the flame-thing seemed to grow. Dark backed away again, trying something different:

"Zan!"

A cone of wind rose around the creature, and seemed to hurt it - but still, it wasn't visibly marked. Dark started backing away again -

There was another cactus behind him. The hunter stepped on it, the shell yielded to his weight, and he slipped in the slime inside the plant. The man of fire closed in...

"Oh no you don't..." He rolled away, just in time, and tried to get up, but was too slow. A white-tipped hand struck his chest.

"Get away you monster!" someone shouted; Dark couldn't hear who it was, as he was now fighting for his life against the soul-draining power of the demon. Then the voice shouted again: "Tsu!"

Laser-like, the ray fired by Tsu was more than any machine-generated shot - despite its name as a 'technique', it was magical in nature. As it touched the monster, the yellow flames died, leaving darkness, which started to fade. A high-pitched wail cut through the air, then the thing was gone, and its cry with it. Dark sat up groggily, and saw Jun look down at his hands in surprise.

"What'dya know -- it worked!" the thief said. Dark grinned weakly.

"Knew you - had it - in you. Knew it'd - pay to - teach you," he wheezed. "Let me - get up - ooff! That thing - really punched - hard!" He got to his feet. Jun rushed to help him.

"I thought it was going to kill you!"

"Not - not that bad," Dark ensured his friend. "I'll live - but what happened to the man? He was with the demon!"

"Shane and Tirom are fighting him now. He seems... indestructible," Jun said. "I came to get you... we... need help."

"I'm on it. Give me a second -"

There was a roar of fire. Someone screamed.

"I'm done sitting here!" Dark growled, a certain light flaring in his eyes. He pushed away from Jun, looked down at his chest - there was no visible wound. Then he snarled out a command - "Nares!" Orangeish light shone for a moment, then disappeared, leaving tiny sparks in its wake, glittering on and around the hunter.

Dark started running before the sparks had vanished.

* *

Shane's sword had caused no damage at all when she threw it. But it was only one of her weapons - she still had the plasma-blade that she had got from the professor at the same time Dark got his claw and Jun his communication device. It proved no more effective, but it kept the unarmed man away from her and Tirom. However, it had turned out he wasn't unarmed after all - at least not if you considered techniques a weapon. The heat caused by Nafoi was incredible, and it had taken Tirom out in one shot. Shane kept slashing at the man, knowing that her only chance was to keep him too busy to use more power. The man, though not marked by the plasma, did indeed seem to be busy... but Shane was tiring quickly, and in a minute or two she would be too tired to attack as often as she needed to. And when that happened, she would die... just as Tirom would.

Dark reached them as Shane missed a cut, and leapt for the man's back. He punched as hard as he could, and they both hit the ground with a thud.

"You - will - die," Dark promised, his eyes glowing with silver fire as he thrust his claw at the man's throat.

Mark smiled.

"He always was the rash one. I took care to protect myself..." he said in a mocking tone. Dark delivered a punch that would have shattered the jaw of a normal man, but only threw this one back, away from Dark.

"I have killed tech-users before!" Dark hissed. "You will meet the same fate." He lunged for Mark, who raised his hands and spoke calmly,

"Savol."

Dark bent double, stifling an involuntary cry of pain, then fell to the ground, rolled, and then rose to his feet again.

"Not - good - enough!"

"Oh, but sooner or later, it will work. You can't defend yourself forever. Diem!"

"Still - not - good - enough!" Dark growled, grunting as he pushed the destructive forces from himself, taking a step closer. Resisting the deadly magic had been almost as much as he could bear - anything more might prove disastrous now. And his enemy seemed to see that, too.

"Ah... Well, you have been fun. Now die." Mark's 'inhabitant' spoke arcane words, focusing its strength in one single spell of death. Dark stiffened as the magic hit him, then fell. As Mark turned his back on the hunter, he failed to see that miraculously, his spell had not killed, but merely stunned. Dark tried to get up again, but was too weak. As Mark grabbed Shane's collar and easily lifted her off the ground, preparing to absorb her life force, her brother mumbled a healing technique. Strength building inside him, he slowly got up, feeling weak and drained. He was gravely injured now, only barely having escaped death, but had no strength left to heal himself - not if he wanted to save Shane. He could cast once more, but after that, he was likely to pass out...

Dark chose the second option, and so launched a last, desperate attack on the invulnerable man: the only technique he had ever bothered to research, one that was unique to Dark - his own.

"Shar!"

Named after his mother, Ashara, this technique called upon lightning. Black-and-silver bolts shot from Dark's fingertips, striking Mark full in his back. Light-based, this attack proved enough. Letting go of Shane, Mark slowly turned around and looked at Dark.

"You - you -" His face started to melt, the stolen body transforming into dust.- have killed me! But I shall not die alone! The disintegrating hands rose, and one last word formed on the man's lips...

Meg...id... nooooo!

Before the last syllable sounded, the arms turned into dust, and fell to the ground. Red fire was becoming visible where flesh disappeared. Within moments, the body had turned into dust, and the red flames started to shrink. A few seconds later, it winked out into nothing.

* *

There was silence. Then a low-pitched note sounded, and a white lightshape, much like the ones that had been imprisoned in the orbs but shaped more like a human being, stepped out from the building. The tone faded, and the lightshape started reforming himself into an old, white-garbed Motavian, his blue fur whitened from age and his eyes sky blue, not red. The man looked down at his body, nodded to himself, then headed towards the sand dune where the battle had been fought.

Reaching it, he found three still bodies, two of them Palman and one that looked almost like a Motavian. There was a third Palman sitting between the two fallen ones, face in his hands as if he was crying. This one seemed little more than a child - they all seemed young, actually, and the ones by the little one's side too young to be his parents. The Motavian silently walked closer, looking at the third fallen - the blue-furred one. She was badly burned, almost to the point where healing would be impossible... but she was not entirely gone, yet. Wasting no time, the white-garbed one knelt and placed his hands on her forehead, then murmured a spell; an improved version of the most powerful healing technique.

"Narever."

The blackened skin and blisters seemed to brighten a bit, then they started healing. The Motavian smiled, then rose and headed for the three humans. So silently did he move that Jun heard nothing, even as the man pointed to the fallen Grays.

"Nasar."

Jun jumped as the calm voice reached him, and immediately looked up - into the serious face of an ancient Motavian man.

"What - whoareyou?"

"You wish to know my name? Not even I recall that. Look to your friends."

Jun looked at Tirom, who was now sitting up. Then his gaze shifted to Dark...

Who rolled over on his back, opened his eyes, and sat up.

"Wha- what happened?" Shane asked, and Jun spun around to see her rising to her feet, looking around in confusion.

"I 'happened'," the Motavian said. "I have healed you. I am here to thank you... the ones you defeated, were the demons Saghi and Saghy. I helped keep them imprisoned under the ground for two millennia, but could do nothing more."

"What?" Dark said, standing up. "You are two thousand years old?"

"Indeed. Or rather, my spirit is. My body is dust now, I believe... My time with you is short; as the prison I constructed was destroyed, my life is ending. A poor soul released the evil ones I kept, and one of them absorbed his life force, inhabiting his body. I could do nothing to prevent their escape... but you managed to destroy them, and for that I am grateful - nay, not I, but all of Algo! They were born out of a greater evil, two thousand five hundred years ago - a demon known to us only as the Darkforce. They terrorised Motavia for five centuries before five Espers gave their lives to imprison them. Knowing that the prison might one day be opened, I joined them in death, to guide the one who would fight this evil when that day came. But, it seems, my aid was not needed. You found their true weakness: light, born of magic."

"There was no 'magic', just a technique," Dark corrected. "Tsu and Shar both include light-based elements, but not magic. And the destructive forces certainly aren't 'light'."

"Still, magic exists in many forms - and your techniques is one form in which it exists. So, Dark of the Gray family, you are only partly correct."

"But - who are you?" Shane asked. "You - just -"

"I know not. I have even forgotten my name, as the years sweep with them the less significant memories, but I was once an Esper."

"A what?" Shane asked. "Forgive me, but... I have never heard the word 'Esper'."

"A wizard, Shane of the Gray family. I was a magician, one of the greatest on Motavia at the time I was born."

"Oh..."

"My thanks for your aid, friends. But as I said, my time is short. I have only time for this request: you must destroy the altar. That will release the other five Esper spirits and give to them the rest they deserve. Will you do that?"

"I will," Dark said. "Trust me."

"Then, go in peace, children of Motavia... especially you, daughter." He turned to Tirom. Then, smiling, he faded into nothing.

Farewell.

There was no menace in that voice.

* *

Epilogue

"So, were there any problems?" Wren's voice asked through Jun's communication device. Shane shook her head, but immediately realised the cyborg couldn't see her.

"No," she said. Tirom and Dark, behind her, shared a smile at this. "We didn't see anything in particular. A man entered one of the buildings, but he was killed by the guardian droids - they were destroyed, too, by us, but that's all. There was no damage done to the buildings, and we sealed them up with some rocks. Tirom teleported them there - no man can move them without similar techniques."

"That is good," Wren said. "The building is of no importance - it is a storage building, and nearly empty - but it could prove dangerous to Palmans or Motavians. That is why I asked you to investigate when I noticed some unusual activity there. Thank you, Shane. It may be that this activity was not from the building itself, but from the caves beyond; it was built in a natural cave."

Shane, smiling to herself, didn't confirm the android's suspicions, but only said, "Dark and Jun were there too, and Tirom, and I couldn't have closed it up without them. Will there be anything else?"

"No. At the moment, everything works out as it should."

"But he might call you again, sometime, if there are problems," the voice of Adrian Holt said, sounding a bit far off; he was probably standing behind Wren. "The payment, by the way, was sufficient, I hope?"

"It is more than sufficient," Dark said, fingering the pouch where his Laconian claw rested. "Maybe we will meet again, professor."

"That," Adrian said, a smile in his voice, "is not unlikely. Keep an eye out."

"We will," Shane promised. "Bye, then - for now."

"For now," Adrian echoed. Then Wren said,

"End transmission," and the device was silent. Shane handed it to Jun, who put the chain around his neck again.

"Well, that does it for today," Dark said, stretching. "Is there anyone who'd like some Palman shortcake? That's the only edible stuff we've got, at the moment."

"It is more than sufficient," Tirom said, trying not to smile. "It is more than sufficient."

The End


...and as usual, I'd like to hear from you readers! Am I getting better or worse? How much better or worse? Tell me!