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Child Of Darkness

Chapter Twenty-Eight


"Get it out of me!" Chaz shouted at the top of his lungs.

Gryz and Rune were the first ones to get to the Hunter's room where they found him sitting upright drenched in sweat. He stared directly at them, but his eyes were unseeing. Chaz was still asleep, amidst a waking dream. "What's wrong with him?" Gryz asked.

"Nightmares," Rune told him. "For Chaz, someone who has been a Protector of Light for so long, being possessed body and soul by Darkness is one of the worst things that could have possibly happened to him. Thanks to Nei, he is quite possibly the only person who has ever survived the Black Energy Wave."

Gryz looked at his friend of many years. He had personally witnessed him go through many a hardship, this ranking just below all the loved ones he lost. How could one person survive through all that, he wondered. Chaz once again impressed the Motavian with his strength of will. He supposed it did not hurt that he had so much loving support from his friends.

"Kyra told me of your experiences at Vahal," the Reverent Fifth was kind enough to make conversation while they settled their friend back into bed. "What she told me is true -- I, too, sense the aura of Telemental power within you. I suppose what happened back in Esper Mansion between you and Balor will never truly be explained."

"I suppose," was his simple return. Gryz preferred not to talk about his developing Esper powers, not now at least. It was already written that he would have to embrace the magic instead of shun it. Until that time came, however, the big Motavian would prefer to have his normal life.

Rune and Gryz left the room so Chaz could sleep. The living room was dark because everyone was still recovering from their injuries. They went into the kitchen and sat down at the table without a word. A few moments later, Hahn got up and joined them. The Scholar pulled up a chair and sat while his friends acknowledged him kindly. Now, instead of two people sitting in silence, there was three.

Hahn fidgeted with his fingers and at some unseen adversary. He wanted desperately to tell them something, that much was obvious. Gryz began tapping a finger on the table, annoyed that his Scholar friend was so fidgety. Rune looked at him, but he averted his gaze. "Okay, Hahn," the Motavian finally said, "something is eating at you. Come on, you can tell your friends."

The Scholar did not say anything, instead choosing to do nothing more than sigh. They had never seen him so withdrawn before; usually he was making a snappy attempt at sarcasm or was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. If they did not know him better, they could have sworn that he probably just killed his best friend. "Hahn?" Rune queried, troubled that his friend was so troubled.

"Huh?" came his surprised response.

"Hahn, what's troubling you?" Hahn stood up and walked to a window and looked out into the night. It was an unusually cool night, but the breeze that blew in was refreshing. It did not, however, blow away his troubles as he would have wanted them to. Gryz and Rune exchanged puzzled looks for neither of them could begin to guess what was bothering him. What puzzled them even more was the fact that he was keeping it from them.

"I have to do something," the Scholar spoke up, "but I'm not sure how you'll take it. When I decided to stay in Krup after Alys died, I never got over the feeling that Chaz thought I abandoned him even though that wasn't the case. He assured me many times that he didn't think it and I believe him. The problem is with me and now I'm afraid I have to deal with that guilt again."

"What are you saying?" Gryz asked. Hahn turned and faced them for the first time since he entered the room.

"I have to return to Krup, now, tonight. I'm worried about Saya because she worries herself sick about me. It's been a long time since we've seen each other and I have to at least let her know that I'm still alive. So, to answer your question, what's troubling me is my guilt. I feel like I'm abandoning Chaz again."

"Are you planning to come back?"

"Of course." Rune laughed.

"Have a little faith in your friends and get that chip off your shoulder," he said. "No matter what you choose to do, even if you told us that you might not be back, we would understand. We are your friends, Hahn. Nothing you do or don't do will ever change our opinion of you. I tell you what -- I will go with you."

"But Rune, you don't know what it's going to be like. Every time I return home it's like a war between my father and I. And Saya -- I don't know what's going to happen between us. I don't know if I want to you to be exposed to that."

"Come on, give me a break. We've fought biomonsters, dragons, and Darkness together and you don't want to expose me to a family spat?"

"Heh, it does seem a bit petty."

"Grab your things. We'll leave within the hour."

"What should I tell Chaz when he comes around?" Gryz asked.

"Tell him to have faith in his friends."

* * * * *

Hahn and Rune travelled through the night, choosing to make the journey by foot rather than Landrover. There was something more satisfying about a brisk walk through desert terrain when it was not burning the soles of your feet. They passed many other travellers like themselves who exchanged friendly greetings which were returned by Rune, but the Scholar had his mind set on their destination. He was so serious about his troubles with his family that it almost frightened the Reverent Fifth. There was no way that Hahn's relationship with his loved ones could have been so frayed; he must have been over-exaggerating. If anyone should be feeling guilty, Rune thought, it should be his other companions and himself. It was because of them that Hahn left his family in the first place.

The Reverent Fifth tried to make friendly conversation but it was no use. Hahn did not want to talk, did not want to do anything else but walk. There were still a couple of hours before daylight and some concern that they might not make it to Krup before that time. A great distance separated Molcum and they needed to stop in the Motavian city for a brief respite. It was Gryz's request that they drop in on Pana and let her know that he was doing okay.

A lightening of the sky in the eastern horizon and a warming of the desert wind indicated that day was not far away. The travelling duo rounded the top of a hill and Molcum came into sight. They exchanged glances, then picked up their pace. Krup was only a short distance from Molcum, but the less time they had to walk under Algo's searing heat the better.

Like most cities on Motavia, Molcum was surrounded by some kind of barrier that marked its boundaries. In Aiedo's case it was high walls, but in this town of native Motavians, they did not need such protection from the desert. A simple fence marked its borders and its citizens walked about freely. Already in these early hours (or late as far as Hahn was concerned), some of them were up and starting their daily chores. It seemed so foreign to the Scholar to see so many individuals out in the daytime. Normally, in Palman towns, everyone was getting ready to seek refuge from the heat. The Motavians, being biologically suited to life in the desert, were not intimidated by Algo's searing rays.

Hahn realized that he was taking too much time ruminating about things that were not in his immediate concern. Having been to Molcum several times over the past few years to visit Gryz, he knew exactly where he was going. The curious glances that were tossed in his direction were not intended for him. Most of them knew the Scholar from past meetings and felt comfortable around him. No, the looks were for his Esper companion who they had never seen before and wondered why someone they trusted was bringing a stranger into their presence. Hahn learned a long time ago that Motavians were xenophobes by nature, not that they did not have reason to be to. Ever since the Palmans colonized their planet they had been oppressed and even sold into slavery. It was not until within the past hundred years that the Palman government decided to not have any influence over their lives so that they could rebuild and share the planet with them.

The Scholar led his companion to a thatched-roof hut near the northeast part of town and rapped lightly on the door. A few moments later, Pana appeared and upon seeing who it was, gasped. She immediately invited them in and took them into a room adjacent to the front one. "I was just about to serve Grandfather Dorin his morning tea," she told them. "Will you join us?"

"I'm afraid not," Hahn told her. "We need to get on our way to Krup before Algo rises too high in the sky."

"I say, Hahn," Dorin spoke up, "haven't seen you around lately. Been out gallivanting with my grandson, eh?"

"You might say that," the Scholar laughed. "Sorry we can't stay and chat, Dorin, but we have to keep moving. We're not as adapted to life in the desert as you and your people are."

"Nobody's perfect, young friend." Dorin was, in fact, only about twelve years older than Hahn, but being that a Motavian's average life span was about forty-three, he was considered elderly. "So where is my grandson, that rascal?"

"Well, that's why we stopped here. Gryz wanted me to tell you that he's doing just fine. We've gotten ourselves into a bit of trouble and I'm afraid that he might not be back for awhile. None of us will. There is a long journey ahead of us and it's only just begun. Gryz wanted so desperately to come with us, but knew that once he saw you and Pana his composure would probably waiver and he would want to stay here with you. To tell you the truth, I'm going to have problems with my composure when I see Saya again. The fate our world is in our hands and Gryz wants to be part of it."

"Oh, that old story again." Hahn and Rune laughed.

"Well, Hahn," the Reverent Fifth spoke up, "we should be going."

"Give Gryz our love," Pana said. "I would rather have him here with us right now, but I understand. Please tell him to be careful, and you two take care as well." The little Motavian walked out of the room and returned a few moments later with two water pouches. "Daytime will have arrived by the time you reach Krup," she said while handing the pouches to her guests. "It's not much, but take these to help you keep from dehydrating."

"Thanks," Hahn replied. "I will tell Gryz for you, and we will be careful."

Pana saw them out and gave Hahn a hug before seeing them off. The Scholar thought about his own words, how he told Dorin and Pana how Gryz thought his composure would waiver. The Motavian never actually told him that, but he knew it without the words being spoken. Truth was, he was just speaking from his own heart. He looked to his Esper companion, firm, his strength of will unwavering and decided that he was glad that Rune accompanied him. At least he would keep logic close at hand and would not let matters of the heart get the best of him.

The two travellers left Molcum without incident, their departure noticed by more than one casual observer. By foot, Krup was just over an hour away. If they quickened their pace, they could shave some time off that. Already Algo was peeking over Motavia's eastern horizon so it looked like they would have to do just that. Once it spread light over the planet's landscape, it heated up quickly. No one wanted to be caught in the middle of a desert during the daytime. If Hahn and Rune ended up that way, they sure did not intend to.

Light shining on Hahn and Rune's faces felt like fire. Another danger that daytime presented to Palmans was overexposure. If any part of their skin was left exposed too long it would burn quickly. Some ingenious individuals managed to create a effective block against Algo's rays, but it only for a short time. Unfortunately, by the time it wore off the wearer usually died of dehydration or heat stroke.

Through streamers of heat rising off of Motavia's surface Hahn could see his hometown of Krup. It seemed to dance around from left to right, mocking him, daring him to enter. The Scholar felt his heart become heavy and sink into his stomach. He feared what his family would say to him, but feared Saya's reaction even more. He remembered how she reacted when he told her that he was leaving to be with his friends in their struggle. Hahn had explained the situation to her, that all of existence was at stake. "If it's going to happen," she said, "then better you be here with me so we can die together." He returned to her after a victorious battle but she was so upset that she called off their engagement. A few months passed, tempers cooled, and finally he was able to coax her into renewing it.

Over two and a half years went by since then and they never married although their engagement vows remained true. He could not explain why the vows of marriage were never exchanged. Perhaps the threat of him leaving again was too much of a risk for her or maybe it was because he was not yet ready for it, that he needed to finish his studies before settling down with her. One thing was certain -- the outcome of their meeting this time would make or break their relationship.

Krup was nestled in a location near the shore of a once great freshwater lake. Because of its proximity to water, farming was easy and meseta flow into the town's economy was high. For many years they flourished and some even talked about Krup becoming Motavia's center of commerce, moving away from the planet's already established center and unofficial capitol city, Aiedo.

That was before the lake began to evaporate faster than it ever had before. Motavia's current drought of two years took its toll on the waters of the lake. Having no source of replenishment, nothing could keep it from drying up. Krup's foremost scholars devised a plan to build a dome over it, but because of the island at its center and the temple that sat atop it, such an undertaking would be monumental and they did not have the resources or the manpower for it. And so, in two years, the lake lost nearly eighty percent of its original volume and was dropping every day. The same scholars who devised the plan to save it became its death-sayers, giving it only another year before it dried up completely.

Hahn and Rune walked into Krup and unlike Molcum, no one walked its streets. Like the rest of Motavia's Palman cities, all business was conducted in the evening hours. They walked past many building, including the Scholar's boyhood home at which point he wanted to stop but decided against it, and made their way to Saya's home which was soon to be his as well. This city was large and yet Aiedo still managed to surpass it in urban sprawl. It was the Hunter's Guild which allowed it to that.

After walking for several minutes, the Scholar finally approached a large home which also served as a school. This home belonged to Saya who paid for it by teaching the children of Krup. Rune was walking behind him not paying much attention to his friend, but all of the sudden he found himself walking in front of him.

Hahn stopped dead in his tracks and stared at his fiancee's home like it was an anathema to him. Never in his life did he ever think that he would fear the day that he would return here. He loved Saya so much and hated leaving her, but was always was willing to sacrifice something for the greater good. After all, what was one man's happiness compared to countless millions of lives?

Rune beckoned his friend, lending him his confidence in that everything would turn out all right. Head down, Hahn approached Saya's door and rapped on it softly if only halfheartedly. They waited a few moments and no one came. He knocked again, this time with a little more gusto. "Coming!" they heard a sleepy voice call out. The heard the sound of shoeless feet moving across a hardwood floor and then the door opened. Saya looked out and waited for her vision to adjust to the intrusion of bright light, then gasped as she saw her beloved fiancee standing before her. Her hair was light blue, almost a periwinkle color. Her blue eyes were just as beautiful as the rest of face, and she had an outstanding figure as well.

Hahn's face was not happy as it should have been -- it was long and drawn like the face of a person who just lost his childhood pet. She ran to him nonetheless and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Hahn!" she cried. The Scholar put her arms around her, too, but it felt awkward to him, almost like it was rehearsed. Saya felt it as well and released her embrace. She pulled back, stunned, and realized that he had something on his mind. "Quickly, come inside," the young teacher ordered. "You two will die if you're out too long." She herded them into her home like they were her school children and shut the door.

The actual living space in Saya's home was behind the schoolroom which was spacious and capable of holding up to thirty children. She led them past the desks, the bookshelves, the learning games and into her personal living space which paled in comparison to her work space. By normal standards, it was not small at all. With two bedrooms, a washroom, kitchen, and den, it rivaled most other homes in Krup. It was because of the space required to teach children that her home seemed so small.

Rune walked into Saya's den and took a seat while readying himself to jump up and place himself between Hahn and danger if the need arose. Fortunately, the young teacher did not seem as angry as his companion made her out to be. In fact, it appeared that she was doting on him. The Reverent Fifth graciously accepted a glass of cold water and drank it feverishly. The refreshing liquid felt good as it cooled his hot throat.

Rune took a moment to study his surroundings. Like most Palman homes, Saya's had floor that was not carpeted since the bare floors usually kept it cooler and generally more livable. She had a single large piece of furniture that looked like it was passed on from her parents and she refused to replace it. Two newer-looking chairs sat on either side of it and were constructed of a sturdy, wicker-like material. Two windows, one facing north and the other facing south, where shut tight and shades were drawn which kept heat out and darkness in. An ornamental fireplace sat across from him, clear of any burned debris, and probably had never been used. Rune realized that he let his mind drift and missed something that was exchanged between the now dueling fiancees.

". . . I suppose you came back to tell me some nonsense about the entire universe being in danger again?" Saya demanded.

"How could you have guessed?" Hahn sneered.

"You know, when you did this the last time, you chose to go with your friends instead of staying here with me. How could you do that? I was so frightened by the stories you told me. After watching Alys die from her battle with the same entity you were fighting, I couldn't bear to let you go, but you left me anyway. Now, three years after that when our lives were just starting to return to normal, you run off again. Well, this time I won't have it! If you leave now, Hahn Larsson, you won't be returning to my comforting arms again!"

"I can't believe that you would place yourself before millions of lives! You talk about me being selfish? Take a long hard look at yourself, Saya, and tell me how others would perceive you. What would they think of you if they knew that you thought that your happiness was more important than all the lives in Algo?"

"How dare you say something like that to me!"

"Say what? The truth? Saya, I have been chosen for a higher cause in life. What I do now will effect all the lives in Algo and whether or not it turns out to be positive or negative I have no control of. But I have to try, I have to give it my all or else I would never be able to live with myself. It will effect our lives, our family's lives, our friends' lives -- and our children's lives." Saya seemed to stop breathing after hearing those words. "I want to give our children the chance to live prosperously. You haven't seen this new Darkness, Saya, and you don't know what it's capable of. Already it's taken from us what cannot be replaced. I see what it does and I realize that I don't want that to happen to you. I love you so much that just imagining you in the clutches of this dark force chills me to my core. If it's within my power, I will not let that happen to you, nor anyone in Krup or in all of Algo. Can't you see that this is important to me? I would like nothing else than to leave here with your support and approval because I will be leaving, Saya."

The young teacher was speechless and stood still like she had been frozen in time. Rune, benign in his presence because he did not want to take part in a domestic argument, saw a struggle take place within her and, like the scales of justice, she was weighing the good against the bad. To let her fiancee go would mean that she would take the chance of not seeing him again and she would have to scrap the past four years and start over again. That was the last thing she wanted to do. On the other hand, if she forbade him from going, he would leave anyway. Then their engagement would be called off, they probably would not speak to each other again, and she would have to scrap the last four years and start over. As far as Saya was concerned, it was a lose-lose situation. Now the hard part was to choose the lesser of two evils.

Saya lowered her head. "When will you be back?" she asked softly. Hahn grabbed her shoulders and pulled her close.

"I don't know, Dear, but I will be back. That much I promise." The young teacher nodded and silenced a developing sob. "Will you be here waiting for me?" Again, Saya nodded, except this time it was reluctantly. She could not tell him that she, too, desired to start a family. She could not tell him that they were closer to achieving that wish then he knew. One word from her and she would ensure that he would not leave. Saya could have kept him with her, but finally started to realize that what her fiancee was doing was for his own posterity as well as everyone else's.

"I have one more stop here before I return to Aiedo," Hahn said to her after a long silence. She looked up at him, surprised.

"Are you sure you want to do that?"

"I have to. If something goes wrong, I want my parents to know why I have to do this."

"I could tell them for you," Saya offered.

"No, I should be the one to tell them."

"Then good luck to you. Please come back in one piece. I don't know what I'd do if I lost you."

Saya and Hahn said a final, tearful goodbye, then the young teacher saw them out of her home. She stood in the doorway while they walked away, the light of day burning her fair skin. She felt her heart sink as they disappeared around a home. "If you only knew," she said bleakly. Saya took one last look, then closed the door behind her.

* * * * *

Hahn and Rune made their way through Krup's streets quickly, daylight already posing a threat to their well-being. The Scholar navigated their course with the expertise of someone who built the city itself and knew every walkway, every corner. Algo pelted them with its rays and already they could feel their strength waning. It was a good thing that Hahn's childhood home was not too far away or they probably never would have made it. There was a part of Hahn that wished they would not.

Rune became aware of the animosity between Hahn and his parents, or rather, with his father, on their first visit to Krup. The Scholar, Chaz, and Alys had just met up with him after discovering that Molcum had been destroyed. They were searching for the legendary medicine, Alshline, which could change flesh turned into stone back into flesh again. The Reverent Fifth accompanied them to Krup and then to Tonoe. He remembered how Hahn's father, Thom Larsson, greeted him and it was something he would not have expected to hear a father say to his son. He called him worthless and disrespectful, almost going as far as saying the words that would disown him from the family. Luckily, Hahn's mother, strong in her own way, was able to dissuade him. They left Krup without another word; the Scholar did not feel obliged to inform his father of the grave danger he faced despite Alys and Chaz's protestations.

And so Hahn and his father became to be more like friendly acquaintances than father and son. Although he was close to his mother, Janel, his other parent was more estranged than anything. During the past three years she begged them to reconcile their differences. She hated trying to hold together a family which had come apart at the seams. She became so frustrated with them that she actually left for a week and did not tell them where she went. Thom and Hahn became so worried that they went out together to look for her. When Janel did finally return, so did the animosity between father and son. Each blamed the other for her leaving.

Obviously Hahn thought that there was something different about his situation that he was willing to risk his state of mind to put his mind at ease. It was admirable that he would do this for his parents, that despite his differences with his father he still cared about him enough to let him know that his son might not return. Janel would probably take it harder than her husband. After they lost Hahn's younger sister, Leita, to a freak accident in which she drowned in the lake, the Scholar wanted to leave his birth town, leave the memories which had cost him so much. When he announced that he was moving to Piata to attend Motavia Academy, Thom took it personally. He had wanted him to stay in Krup and continue the family's long-lived trade of weapon smithing. The Larsson's weapons were among the finest in all of Motavia, but Thom could not continue making them forever. Hahn left, but tried to keep his connections to home by sending literature that he might find useful in weapon forgery. Although Thom never admitted it, he did find use for what his son sent and improved the quality of his weapons.

Hahn walked to the door with more composure than he had when they reached Saya's home. Standing tall, he knocked loudly on the solid wood door and then stood away from it. Rune thought he heard some movement inside, but he did not know if it really was someone moving or if it was just because of the heat. A few minutes passed and the door opened. Hahn expected to see his father standing in the doorway, but was pleasantly surprised to see his mother, instead. "Mother!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, Hahn!" Janel returned and the two embraced. Rune was pleased to see that at least he was still on good terms with his mother. "Quickly, come inside before the two of you bake." Hahn and Rune hurried inside the Larsson home.

The years had been kind to his mother, the Scholar thought. Her skin was still as smooth and soft as he remembered it. Her once dusty-blonde hair flowed freely down to her back. For someone who was over fifty years of age, she walked with the stamina and confidence of a person half her age. Only the lines on her face indicated that she had beared much in her life, most of which was caused by the animosity between her husband and son.

"I'm sorry it's so hot in here," Mrs. Larsson apologized. "Because of the water shortage we cannot afford to use our evaporative cooling system."

"Allow me," Rune offered. Raising a hand, the Reverent Fifth used Wat and a cooling breeze blew through the Larsson home.

"That feels heavenly, thank you."

"Mom, where's dad at?" the Scholar asked.

"He's in bed," she told him. "He hasn't been well lately." He looked at her, the soft eyes filled with trouble and deep concern. The Scholar felt his heart drop. Although he did not get along with him, Hahn had never really thought about life without him, or what his mother's life would be without him. "It's this heat and -- well, I guess you know. There is no rain and even wildlife is getting scarce. I always hated the fact that we profited from the existence of biomonsters, but not that their numbers are dwindling, our sales have dropped. We've kept Tara employed as long as we could. She's been working for us for such a long time that she's become like a daughter to us. She understands that we can't afford to keep her and has told us many times that she would leave. Your father wouldn't have it, though, and truthfully I don't think I could bear to let her go either. She's taken two pay cuts in the past six months because there's just no other work available. Thom has been teaching her the smithing process and she has excelled at it."

"So what's wrong with dad?" Hahn asked. "Is he sick? Perhaps there is something I --"

"No, I don't think so. Don't worry, it's just age. He'll recover in a couple of days."

"That's a relief."

Rune sat back and listened to mother and son discuss the events which took place in their lives since their last meeting which was over seven months ago. The Reverent Fifth remembered his own mother, how she was kind and nurturing just like Hahn's. There was also a part of her that he did not like to reminisce about, the part of her that forced her to be callous like a scientist and its guinea pig. Before Rune was even born, he was selected to be the next Lutz. It was her responsibility to raise him into manhood at which point, at the age of twenty, he would take the place of the current Lutz, his father. The Reverent Fifth remembered seeing his father briefly once when he came out of the Hibernation Chamber and again when he prepared to enter the chamber himself, but that was all. They never even exchanged words. He would have liked to have offered Hahn some comforting words of advice in dealing with his parents, but he was hardly qualified to do that.

Rune never really got to enjoy his childhood for he was always being encouraged to study hard and had the best mentors in Esper society at his disposal. He had two siblings, an older sister and a younger brother, that he never got to grow up with, never really knew in their adult lives. They were only half-relations, fathered by the man his mother was married to. She had been predestined to bear the Reverent Fourth's child and there was no getting around it. There were rumors that she had twins, a boy and a girl, but those rumors were found not to be true and put to an end.

"What's going on out here?" a sleepy voice demanded. Thom Larsson emerged from his bedroom and cast a glance through half-closed eyelids. His once shoulder-length brown hair was all but grey now and skin hung loosely from his cheeks. Rune could see that he was probably a very handsome man in his youth and probably did not look much different than his son did now. Hahn stood up from his seat and faced him.

"Father," he acknowledged.

"Hahn," Thom returned coldly, then took a seat in a large, plush chair. "To what do we owe for this visit? Have you once again come to tell us that you are rejecting your heritage and are not moving back here to take your father's place in the family's business?"

"Well, I didn't come here to fight with you."

"Hrmph," his father mumbled. Hahn ignored his indifference.

"I've come to inform you and mother that I am embarking on a journey that could possibly be my last. I came to say goodbye."

"Hahn?" Janel questioned. "What do you mean?"

"Well, mom, let's just say that I've gotten myself into a bad situation and I must see it through to the end, even if it means my life. I've already told Saya about it and although she took it hard at first, I think she has accepted my responsibility to this. She became very supportive before I left. I was hoping that you would be supportive as well."

"And why should we be supportive of someone who has shirked of his responsibility to his family? Tell me, why should we support someone who has forgotten his roots?" Rune sensed anger grow within the Scholar, but he was doing an admirable job at repressing it. He did not like how Thom was attacking his son because he knew how much Hahn loved his family. Nothing stung more than disapproving words from one's own family. The Reverent Fifth, however, had no room to talk because he was fortunate enough to not have experienced it.

Janel shook her head in disbelief. She could not believe that after what her son just said that Thom would still bring up that petty argument. For many, many years she put up with their squabbles, but was pleased to see that Hahn was genuinely here to make amends and not fight with his father. Mrs. Larsson would have been content with slapping some sense into her husband. Hearing that their only child was going on a journey that could possibly lead to his death was almost too much for her to bear.

"Well," Thom continued, "are you just going to sit there and not defend yourself with all your fancy words like you usually do?"

"No," Hahn rebutted, "if yelling at me and making unfounded accusations toward me makes you feel better, then let me have it."

"Figures -- I always knew you didn't have a backbone."

"Well, I beg to differ," Rune spoke up, angry that Hahn's father was speaking such hurtful words. "Hahn is not only one of the most courageous people I've ever met, but he's also one of the most intelligent, one of the most skilled, and one of the most loyal. These are qualities that most people strive to achieve and here you sit scoffing at them. Excuse my bluntness, sir, but how dare you." Thom's eyes glared and his strong chin jutted out in anger. The Scholar recognized the warning signs that his father was about to explode.

"Rune, please," Hahn whispered fiercely in his ear, "let me handle this. This battle is one I must wage myself."

"No," the Reverent Fifth disagreed, "you have been fighting with your father for more years than you'd care to admit even to me. It's about time that someone steps in and offers an outside opinion or at least an arbitration."

"Yes," Janel added, "and that someone should be me." She stood up from her seat next to her husband and went to stand beside Hahn. Taking his hand into hers, she squeezed tightly. "I have been sitting idly back and haven't said a word throughout this ordeal. I never wanted to say anything because it was my hope that you could resolve this on your own, but it looks like that's never going to happen." She looked at her son and smiled. "Now, I see that Hahn is trying to repair what so many years has damaged and I would think that you would be happy that he took that first step and you didn't have to. Your foolish pride has destroyed your relationship with your son, our only child, and now it's about to destroy your marriage as well."

"Mom," Hahn started, "you can't --"

"Yes I can." Janel took a deep breath and looked at her husband who was stunned into speechlessness by her words. "When Hahn was born, I decided that our goal was to give him every opportunity in the world to make good for himself. After Leita died, I decided that we should really concentrate on giving him more, encouraging him. When he told us that he wanted to go to Motavia Academy to study, I was so happy. He was to be the first on my side of the family to achieve a higher education and I wanted to celebrate. You, on the other hand, all but disowned him. Why?" Mrs. Larsson pretended to wait for an answer but knew she would not get one because it was a rhetorical question. "The goal of all parents should be to strive to give their child more than they had in life. I see no reason why you and I shouldn't be the same way. We raised Hahn to be an independent thinker, gave him a sense of individuality, and now you're upset at him for not following the herd. Thom, this family business has been our lives, but it's also going to be our downfall. You've taught Tara your trade so let her take over. Hahn has another purpose in life and it's not here in Krup. Let's be happy for him for once."

Thom was silent for a long time while he carefully weighed his wife's words. Sure, they had argued over his treatment of Hahn many a time, but never had Janel threatened to leave him. Where would she go? he thought. She has no family left alive and very few of her friends could afford to take her in. I suppose one of them would take care of her, but then who will be left to take care of me. Surely not Hahn. Janel is right -- he has carefully paved his own path through life and has done a fine job sticking to it. It's been so long since I've enjoyed the company of my son.

Hahn, in the meantime, was lost in his own thoughts. He could not believe his ears. Never in his life did his mother display such gall in defiance of her husband. The Scholar had hoped that she would someday stick up for him, but not this way. She was actually threatening to leave him, something he would not have considered happening in their lifetimes. They were, after all, married for over thirty years. She never seemed to be unhappy with their marriage, just annoyed that the two closest people in her life could not get along. He decided that whatever decision she might make, he would stand behind her one hundred percent.

"So," Thom said, "now I'm faced with an ultimatum, is that it?" He stood up and walked to an open window. Staring outside, he continued. "Up until now I have enjoyed my life the way it is except for one thing -- the fact that I had no son in it. Only now, when the threat of losing everything I love is imminent, do I realize that. Before you judge me, son," Hahn seemed to gasp at the word for it seemed like an eternity since his father called him that, "you must understand our family's history, our heritage, and our curse. Hahn, pull up a chair and listen to my story."

The Scholar did as he was told even though he felt ambivalent to do so. This was a dark, secretive side that he never saw in his father before and it was frightening. What was it about his past that could only be spoken about furtively? He never heard anything from his uncles or cousins about it, but then again they tried distance themselves from his family. Hahn had an unnerving feeling that this was the sort of thing that fathers tell their sons on their deathbeds and make them swear never to reveal it to anyone. He hoped that his dad was not near death, especially since they were so close to repairing their relationship.

Thom turned to Rune who was still standing near the front door. "Rune, is it?" he asked. The Reverent Fifth nodded in acknowledgment. "My son once told me that you are the Lutz of legend, or at least a part of you is. Please, join us, for you may learn a little about your past as well." Rune was surprised at his remark, surprised that anyone outside of Esper society would possibly have knowledge that he did not. Still, he was interested in what the aging man had to say and did not deny the invitation.

"Very well," he said. "I will consider it an honor." He pulled up a chair and sat next to Hahn. Janel sat at her husband's side, both of her hands clasped around his left. Hahn could see a trembling in them, but he could not tell if it was his father or his mother. Whatever his father was about to tell him, he even doubted that his mother knew of it.

"Our family's history predates many of the other families on Motavia . . . ." Thom Larsson launched himself into a history lesson, a walk down memory lane if you will. Apparently, the family's ancestors originally had its roots on the planet of Palma around the same time when Alis Landale and her brother, Nero, were living in the city of Camineet. The Larsson's were simple people then, content with their family farm and the herds of livestock they raised. At that time, King Lassic was a benevolent king and was loved by all his people. "I'm sure the two of you have heard that story time and time again," Thom said, "so I'll skip that part."

After Lassic was defeated, his Air Castle crashed from the sky into the sea and the mysterious power which held the tower beneath it vanished. Debris from the towering structure fell to the ground and could be heard from nearly a hundred miles away. "The tower was Baya Malay," Rune interjected. "I remember how much Noah hated that place."

"Yes, it was Baya Malay," Thom confirmed. "Once it fell and the walls separating it from the rest of Palma came down, the land it stood on went on the auction block to the highest bidder." According to Hahn's father, no one wanted to move onto that accursed land because it was believed to be unfit for Palman inhabitants, meaning that everyone thought the land itself was evil. No one, that was, except for a man named Joshua Larsson, his wife, and his children.

The Larsson's moved onto this new land with a bright hope for the future. With the help of some friends, they were able to clear out enough debris from the fallen tower to build a home and several acres to farm upon. One day while farming his land, Joshua struck something metal far beneath the ground. He summoned his oldest son to help dig it out, but soon regretted that he did. They dug for what seemed like hours, unearthing bits an pieces of some kind of strange metal they never saw the likes of before. Joshua's son reached down into the hole to retrieve more of the metal which was beginning to look like armor. In his reckless haste, the boy accidentally cut his finger on it. Within minutes, while held in Joshua's arms, he died.

Convinced that the metal was evil, Joshua buried it as quickly as he could, then returned home to tell his wife of the tragedy. When he got there, however, something else was there, too. While he walked up to the door with his son in his arms, his wife appeared holding a sinister-looking suit of armor. She said it had mysteriously appeared in their bedroom when she was not looking, perhaps magically. Distraught over seeing her son dead, she dropped the armor and ran to him. Joshua handed her his body, then went to seize the armor. He explained to her what happened and told her that the metal was lethal. She ordered him to get rid of it and he was all too happy to oblige.

Joshua returned to the fields with the armor, to the exact spot where he discovered it before. Digging frantically, he was stunned to discover that the pieces he buried before were no longer there. Upon examining the armor, he found that a piece of the shoulder plate had some fresh blood on it -- his son's blood. Joshua buried it again, then returned home.

When he arrived, the armor sat on his porch, unsoiled. For weeks he tried to get rid of it in various ways. He had to dispose of it in some way that no one else would be hurt from it, not like his son. He threw it into the sea a few times, but it returned. At one point, he created an avalanche on a hill and buried it in thousands of pounds of rock debris and vegetation, but still it came back. Joshua realized that it was cursed in some way and that he would not be rid of it, ever. His other son and wife had fallen ill since the armor appeared and his health was failing as well. He needed to find help, and he needed to find it quickly.

A friend of the family sent word to Queen Alis who deemed it necessary to respond promptly. She contacted the governor on Motavia to summon her friend who had returned to his cave to meditate. "Noah," Rune interjected. Thom confirmed his suspicions. "There is a vague memory of -- wait a second! You are descendants of Joshua Larsson?"

"The one and only."

"Most of my memories retained from Noah are of his journey with Alis, Myau, and Odin. There is, however, a mention of one name. I'll give you one guess at whose name that is. I never knew why the memory of Joshua Larsson has been passed down for so long, but I have a feeling that I'm about to find out."

"I don't understand," Hahn confessed. "I never heard of Joshua Larsson before."

"Allow me to finish my story," his father told him.

Noah arrived the very next day and Alis was there to greet him at the spaceport. She briefed him on the situation and they immediately left for the Larsson home which they discovered, much to their dislike, was the land on which Baya Malay once stood. Upon nearing the home, Noah sensed the armor which did not appear out of nowhere. The Esper had sensed it before and the feeling was unmistakable. The armor did not belong to just anybody --

It had belonged to Lassic.

The dark armor, forged by priests of some unknown religion, oozed evil like a severed vein. No one knew how it was removed from his body and placed in Baya Malay. Some thought that the power that forged it had something to do with it, perhaps hoping that someone would be drawn in by its power. Noah instructed Joshua to remove himself and his family while he and Alis remained to deal with the threat. Joshua did as he was told and rode into Scion to stay with some friends. The Esper's magic, in the meantime, prevented the armor from following him.

Noah told Alis that this armor was not from any planet in Algo and that he had never seen its like before. Although it was evil in its being, he did not sense that it started out that way. It was his belief that it emulated the intentions of its wearer. Lassic was evil; consequently, it became evil to better serve his purpose. The Esper cast a powerful spell which, at length, was able to exorcize the evil intent and send it spinning into nether-space. Then, placing it into a solid iron kettle, both he and Queen Alis cast Fire spells and changed it into a molten state. As it cooled, Noah forged part of it into a sword, another into a largely oversized shield.

No one ever found out what became of the sword. It was believed to have been destroyed along with Palma. Noah left the shield with Joshua and his family saying that it would no longer plague them. It would, however, never leave them. No matter how hard they tried to get rid of it, the strange metal would find its way back. The Esper prophesied, although he had no basis for one, that it would remain in his family for one hundred generations. In order to hide its true identity, Joshua decided to make his living as a weapon smith. This tradition, as well as the shield, was passed down through thirteen generations when Micah Larsson decided to move his family and business to Motavia.

Years after he was settled and his oldest son was preparing to take over the family business, Micah made a decision to do away with the shield, but not in an obvious way. He melted it down into a simple block of metal and gave it a name to honor and reflect its heritage. Micah could not, however, bear to make it too similar to something which had cost his family so much.

"He called the metal Mahlay," said Thom.

Hahn's hand instinctively went to his side where he carried his only weapon in a sheath. He took the dagger out and eyed its blade suspiciously while at the same time feeling his stomach turn. Standing from his seat, the Scholar hurled it away and lodged it deep into a wall across from him.

"You told me that metal was special!" he roared. "It's special, all right! You just didn't tell me how it would effect me for the rest of my life!"

"I wanted to tell you, son," Thom spoke apologetically, "but I knew that if you knew he truth behind it, you never would have used it. I remembered the story behind it, how Noah knew how the metal emulated the intentions of whoever wielded it. When you told me of your plans to rejoin your friends, I had a feeling that it would protect you."

Rune went and retrieved his friend's Mahlay Dagger from the wall and held it reverently. "I can't believe that after all this time, the mystery of Joshua Larsson's name is finally solved. Even now, it's hard to believe that this is the same metal that Lassic once wore." The Reverent Fifth handed it to Hahn who shoved it back into his sheath without a second thought.

"Now you know the truth behind why I was so upset when you told me that you didn't want to carry out the family business," the Scholar's father told him. "Even if I didn't tell you about it, when I passed on, it would have found you."

"So now what do I do?"

"Keep it, pass it on to your children, and it will protect them as it has protected you." Thom stood up slowly from his seat and for the first time, Hahn saw how old his father truly was. His back was crooked and his hands aged from countless years forging metal into weaponry. He always respected him as a youth and was just now realizing why. Despite the fact that they battled their own wars for a long time, he still loved him enough to give him the means to protect himself and others. If ever there was a true display of what unconditional love was, that was it.

"Please, stay here and rest," Thom offered. "I know you are probably anxious to return to your friends, but you won't be able to until nightfall. As for me, I must return to my rest. These weary bones aren't as strong as they used to be." Hahn's father turned to walk back to his room when the Scholar stopped him.

"Dad, I -- I love you."

"I love you, too, son. Be safe, live well, and never forget what you have learned here today."

Janel kissed her son, said farewell to Rune, and joined her husband in their bedroom. Hahn stretched out on the sofa while his companion chose to sleep on a fleece on the floor where it was cooler. The Scholar reflected on the obstacles he conquered only in the past few hours. From where he stood, they were greater than even some of the enemies he faced. Looking over at Rune who removed his cape and hung it off a chair, he decided again that he was glad the Esper accompanied him. He shared a special event in his life with him and he would not soon forget that.

Then there was his father, the man who was his enmity for so long but was now his father again. What a cruel twist of fate it was to have him repair his relationship then send him off to possibly die. At least he knew his true feelings toward him and vice versa. That, at least, would make death a little easier to face. Knowing that he brought some closure into his and his father's life was an admirable accomplishment. And his mother, too -- she could now rest easy that they were not going to be at each other's throats every time he came to visit. She no longer had to be the referee in their bouts. Everything was looking better for the Scholar. Now, only if it would rub off on his friends.

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