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By Sheri

Chapter One

Deep within a mountains of Dezoris, a town was nestled among the snow and rock. Most other towns, given such circumstances, would not be able to thrive in such a hostile environment. However, the inhabitants were not bothered by the snow and rock, their city buried in the mountain side. The town was rather special due to these inhabitants, as well as the terrain it rested within.

It was the Ancient Esper capital of the planet Dezoris. Ancient Espers where, perhaps, the most powerful race in all of Algo. Or so they themselves believed. They had every reason to think that way. They were warriors, having given up their original forms in favor of those with better combat abilities. Often, they looked like, and could be mistaken for, Bio Monsters. Such a mistake, however, was considered a serious insult and often calls for violent retaliation. Ancient Esper magic far surpassed even that of the most powerful Esper. Most had strength to put a Motavian's to shame. Though, there were a few unlucky ones to have neither strength nor surpassing magic. But their intelligence more than made up for such defaults. If only the rest of the race would see it that way. They were considered 'mutates' and usually received the worst of treatment. According to records, most 'mutates' committed suicide before they ever came of age.

The town itself was as mysterious and dazzling as the people that lived there. The roads where made of shimmering gold. Along the streets of gold where houses made of beautiful white crystal. The door frames and windows where made of equally brilliant red crystal. Decorating the houses and roads were flowers and trees of all shapes and sizes, ranging from oaks to posies. In the center of this magnificent town was a towering castle that reached upwards until it pierced through the mountain roof and in to the sky. From the hole within the mountain, sunlight shone down upon the inhabitants.

The Ancient Espers lived like any other race would. And children were no exception.

" STOP! HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!" a burly old walrus bellowed. His scrambled out of his bakery, flour all over his gray tunic and white apron. He waved a rolling pin around, furious. He huffed and puffed as he tried to give chase after two Ancient Esper cubs who ran from him, each carrying a shortcake. All three, the pursuer and the pursued, walked upright. The cub in the lead, a golden lion with laughing green eyes and a matching green tunic, looked back and grinned. His companion, a golden eagle wearing an orange tunic, giggled happily. They had no worries about the old baker. He was too slow to catch them, as they well knew. As expected, the old baker came to a panting halt. He waved a fin at the cubs. " TRRROSTA!! FARSIGHT! I'LL GET YOU!!" he shrieked. The two cubs darted along the roads, as if they were still being pursued. With quick movements, the two children scampered up a tree and hid among the leaves. Both panted heavily, glancing around to see if anyone had seen them. The eagle carefully parted the leaves and peered out to the streets. Seeing that they had lost the baker, Farsight the eagle laughed.

" We lost him!" he snickered.

" What if he tells Grandpa?" the lion ventured, warily. Farsight snickered.

" Don't mind him, Trrrosta. Old Brito won't do anything. He's too afraid of your grandpa to approach him!" he said, panting. Trrrosta, the lion cub, nodded. Farsight crowed loudly. " WHOO! That was great! Nothing like snatching shortcakes right from the oven!" he snickered.

" But I feel kinda bad...," Trrrosta interrupted. Farsight blinked and eyed him.

" Oooh, yer just saying that 'cause you think yer hot stuff now that your mane's starting to grow in," Farsight snorted. Trrrosta blinked and looked up. A small tuff of fluffy golden hair was growing on his head. He was quite proud of it. It made him feel so grown up.

" I am not...," he mumbled.

" Are too!"

" AM NOT!"

" Are too,"

" ARE NOT!!!!"

" Are too. Stop acting all stuffy and eat yer shortcake 'fore I do!" Farsight replied. Trrrosta, alarmed, popped the entire shortcake in to his mouth and chewed. He smiled smugly at Farsight, who did the same. They shared a snicker and their earlier argument had been totally forgotten. Dashing through the streets and leaping fences, the two friends raced towards a street that led in to a separate cavern. It was a lot smaller than the one where the castle and town where. It was the equivalent to a side road in any Palman town. As Farsight and Trrrosta ran through the cavern, they chattered with youthful vigor.

" When we're older, we'll go out in to the world and kill all the monsters in all of Algo!" Trrrosta said, puffing up his chest. Farsight nodded vigorously.

" And be the bestest heroes anywhere!" he said, eyes shining. They giggled and boasted as they ran through the cavern. It branched off in to many different side tunnels but they always went straight. They were in the Catacombs, a network of tunnels that went through out the mountains. Most tunnels where explored and safe. Except for the deeper ones. Those where totally off-limits to everyone and were guarded by Trrrosta's grandfather. As the two ran, the heat began to increase drastically. But neither cub seemed to notice. Finally, the two came to a sign. In the Ancient Esper language, it clearly stated that there was to be no fighting in the tunnels. Doing so was punishable by the one called 'Thunder'. It was one of Trrrosta's grandfather's rules and no one dared break them. Trrrosta dashed down the new, smaller tunnel and came to what was clearly a waiting room. Inside, creatures of all races sat on couches and waited. There was a large desk at one end of the room and two doors behind the desk. One door was wide open while the other one was closed. The closed door led to Trrrosta's home. In the room with the open door, a large Ancient Esper that looked much like an armadillo without a shell was pounding away at a large anvil. Trrrosta giggled happily and ran towards the Ancient Esper as Farsight waited at a respectable distance.

" GRANDPA!!" Trrrosta called. The large Ancient Esper turned and laughed heartily.

" Trrrosta my boy! Home so soon?" he said as he scooped up the tiny lad. He hugged Trrrosta tightly. Trrrosta gagged.

" EEEEEW! Grandpaaaa! Yer all stinky and sweaty!" he whined.

" That's because I've been working. And still am," his grandfather replied, laughing. An Ancient Esper with the features of a cat poked her head in.

" Thunder! Ya finish that shield yet?" she inquired. Thunder chuckled.

" Yep, Kitti. Here ya go," he laughed. He set Trrrosta down and picked up a steaming hot shield from the anvil. He carefully cooled it off in a nearby pool, then walked over and handed it to Kitti. Kitti nodded, then walked out of the room. Trrrosta pulled on his grandfather's leg.

" When can I help make stuff?" he asked. " I wanna make weapons and armor and chests and all sorts of stuff too! It'll be cool!" he said. Thunder laughed and looked down at his grandson.

" Not yet, Trrrosta. It's a big responsibility to do what I do. I'll let you work with me when I am sure you can handle it," Thunder said. Thunder smiled kindly when he saw his grandson's disappointment. " Now laddie... you'll have plenty of time to worry about it when you're older. Right now, you should just enjoy yer childhood years. They'll be gone soon enough," he said. Trrrosta nodded, though he was full of disappointment. Thunder hugged him, then smiled even wider. " What you been up to, little one?" he inquired. Trrrosta tried to hide his surprise. Had Brito tattled on him and Farsight? Ancient Espers possess the ability to communicate telepathically so it was not at all impossible. Trrrosta cleared his throat.

" Out wif Farsight," Trrrosta replied, nervously. Thunder looked him over, then smiled.

" Have fun?" he asked. Trrrosta nodded vigorously. " Good... well, go and play some more with Farsight. I have to get back to work," he said, smiling. Trrrosta grinned and ran out. He motioned to Farsight to follow him out of his grandfather's workshop. They ran outside, where Trrrosta breathed a deep sigh of relief.

" Did he know?" Farsight inquired. Trrrosta shook his head and grinned. Farsight grinned along with his friend. " See? I told you not to worry about ol' Brito," Farsight laughed. Trrrosta nodded.

" Though I still don't feel right about stealing his shortcakes....," Trrrosta admitted. Farsight snorted.

" You'll get over it," he said. Trrrosta didn't feel like arguing so he didn't say anything. Farsight grinned and playfully punched Trrrosta in the shoulder. " So now what?" he asked. Trrrosta itched his neck.

" We can't go back to town yet... Brito's probably hunting for us," he muttered. Farsight nodded, solemnly.

" Maybe we can play outside," Farsight muttered. " But what would we do?"

Trrrosta's eyes narrowed and a dark shadow crossed his face.

" I have an idea,"

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At the foot of the mountain side was a small mining town. Snow covered the old wood houses, which was tainted with soot and coal dust. The entire town reeked of coal and soot, as did the people who scuffled about amid the cold. At the far edge of the town was an old entrance to a mine, mine cart tracks leading in to it. Miners drifted in and out, as if lumbering oxes, as they pushed carts or pick axes. In the town itself, Palmans and Dezorians alike were wrapped up warmly in thick furrs as they scurried to and fro. The town looked rather poor, despite the success of the mine. Such a thing, however, was to be expected with the biting cold.

" Move over, Trrrosta! I'm cold!" Farsight hissed. Trrrosta glanced at Farsight, then scooted over. He was crouched behind a large rock, hiding from both sight and the horrible wind that plagued the area. The rock was five feet high and seven feet wide, enough for an Ancient Esper cub to duck behind. Carved in the side of the rock were symbols which translated to " Mischief Rock". Farsight scooted farther behind the rock and shivered. " Bah! I should have brought more coats!" he muttered. Trrrosta grinned.

" You could always snatch one," he winked. Farsight snorted with contempt.

" I'm not touching vermin coats," he growled. Trrrosta laughed and poked Farsight in the ribs.

" I know, I know!" he snickered. " I was just ruffling your feathers,"

Farsight grinned, slightly, then glanced down at the town.

" So what ya wanna do?" he asked, hopeful. Trrrosta tilted his head and grinned.

" We're not at Mischief Rock for nuthin'!" he giggled. Farsight nodded, then smirked. Mischief Rock was known by all the cubs and was one of the places they would go to play. Unfortunately, the town was their toy. The cubs would play practical jokes upon the town below, anything from swiping things to flinging snowballs at unaware villagers. The villagers, who were superstitious, always suspected that spirits were unhappy with them when such things occurred. Little did they know that they were at the bottom of an Ancient Esper cub's practical joke.

" I still can't believe you like Mischief Rock," Farsight teased. " Mister Goodie Goodie himself! If your grandfather knew, he'd whip your bottom!"

Trrrosta's eyes darkened and his smile slipped in to a sneer.

" You know perfectly well why I come here," he muttered. Farsight nodded, solemnly.

" Yer momma and papa..," Farsight replied. " Sorry, Trrrosta... it had slipped my mind..," he apologized. Trrrosta nodded, slowly.

" I won't ever forget..," he growled, glaring at the town.

<i>The heat was horrible as the fire danced about, devouring the houses as if they were twigs. The screams issued from all about as Ancient Espers scurried about, panicked.</i>

<i>It had been an Ancient Esper village, one unprotected by rock and the earth. It was as any other small farming village, herding thick furred animals to supply the cities with meat. There were no formal schools, so magical knowledge was minimal, if not nonexistent. It was the perfect target for the Palmans.</i>

<i>" Kill the blasted monsters!" a Palman bellowed as he lunged at an Ancient Esper, twirling a sickle. Ancient Espers fought, daringly, to protect themselves from the surprise onslaught. But, by the time the Ancient Espers had been made aware of the attack, much damage had been done. </i>

<i>Trrrosta sobbed, shaking the bloody and limp form of a female lion. Arrows stuck out her back and she lay, face downward, in to the cold snow. The snow about her turned red with blood, as well as the tiny cub's hands</i>

<i>" Momma! Momma!" he cried. A foot crashed before him and he looked up to see his father falling backwards, a spear through his stomach. He gasped sharply, his eyes going cold. His mane fluttered as he collapsed, lifeless, next to his son. Trrrosta cried, tears wetting his cheeks. He looked up to see a Palman sneering at him, holding the bloodied staff. Trrrosta squeaked.</i>

<i>" Now here's a little monster spawn!" the Palman spat as he raised his staff. At that moment a loud roar issued and a hammer flew at him from the side, slamming in to his ribs. The Palman cried, literally splitting in half under the pure power of the hammer. Trrrosta looked up, sobbing, to find his grandfather, Thunder, charging up to pick up his hammer. Behind him, the Ancient Esper army charged over the hill to attack the Palmans, their battle cry tinged with rage and indignation. The Palmans turned to fight the army but not a single one would survive the battle that would ensue. Thunder kneeled by Trrrosta and hugged him tightly. Trrrosta sobbed in to Thunder's cold tunic as the screams of pain, followed by rage, reached his ears. Thunder stroked Trrrosta's head.</i>

<i>" I'm so sorry..," Thunder choked. " We came... too late... too late..,"<i>

<i> Trrrosta offered no response as his eyes drifted to his parents, snow beginning to cover their lifeless forms.</i>

<i>He would never forget.</i>

" I won't EVER forget..," Trrrosta growled, his mane bristling. " I hate them... I hate them!" he spat. Farsight nodded, then glared down at the town. He could feel his friend's anger in his blood, causing his own mood to shift.

" Let's throw rocks at them," Farsight snapped. Trrrosta nodded and scooped in to the snow to pluck up a rock. He stood up, slightly, and threw the rock in to the town with all his might. The rock crashed through a window, shattering it. Hearing the sound of glass, Trrrosta ducked down and smirked.

" PinPon!" Trrrosta grinned.

" Good aim!" Farsight cheered.

" You want to try?" Trrrosta asked. Farsight nodded, then grabbed a rock for himself. He threw it as far as he could. It landed in a steaming mug, causing the liquid to splatter over the drinker. Farsight ducked down and the two cubs cackled as the cries of pain and frustration issued from the unhappy villager.

" Pinpon!" Farsight crowed. Trrrosta glanced about, scooping up snow to make a snowball.

" Hmm," he muttered. His eyes landed on a young woman, her face covered in soot. She was carrying a bag of groceries and seemed to be very tired. Trrrosta grinned widely. " I bet I can nail her!" he boasted. Farsight peered at the lady.

" I bet ya can't!" he grinned.

" Can!" Trrrosta responded. " Just watch!" he barked. He brought back his hand and threw the snowball as hard as he could. The snowball soared through the air and smacked against the girl's head. The girl went rigid as the snow splattered all over her. She just stood there, her face almost expressionless. However, a second later, she burst out crying. Trrrosta's ears flipped back in surprise as the woman began to sob hysterically.

" Geez... she musta had a really bad day," Farsight said, though he obviously cared very little. Trrrosta felt his blood run cold and guilt surge through him like electricity as the woman attempted to remove the snow from her hair, though having trouble due to her sobbing. Trrrosta glanced downward, feeling ill to his stomach. Farsight didn't notice his sudden illness, which Trrrosta was glad for.

" She's taking a snowball a bit too hard," he muttered. Farsight nodded, then smirked.

" Well! What a pleasant surprise it was, then," he grinned. Trrrosta found that he could not agree. He had always enjoyed throwing snowballs or rocks at the villager because they always reacted with curses or violent snarls, just as he had remembered them at the burning of his village. He had never seen a Palman cry.

It bothered him.

" Let's do something else," he declared, pretending to be bored with the game in order to hide his discomfort.

" What?" Farsight asked, glancing at his friend. Trrrosta squinted, thinking.

" Hmmm... wanna go exploring?" he asked. Farsight nodded, happily.

" But where?" he asked. Trrrosta crossed his eyes, pondering.

" Umm... hey! I got it! We'll go explore some ruins I saw while on my walk yesterday with Grandpa! He wouldn't take me to go see them so....," he began.

".... let's go see them now!" Farsight finished, grinning. The two nodded to each other, then climbed to their feet and dashed along the trail away from the village.

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" WHOOHOO!" a little Ancient Esper dracling crowed. He appeared to be a Numan with dracling features, which included claws, tail, fangs, and wings. He had long blonde, almost gold, hair and shining green eyes. He was very young in Ancient Esper years and full of energy. He cackled happily and flung energy blasts at a small Ancient Esper panther. The panther squealed in pain and ran. The Ancient Esper dracling cheered and gave chase. He tackled the smaller and apparently weaker Ancient Esper and pinned him. " Wasn't that a great blast, Techno?" the dracling laughed. Techno nodded, numbly.

" Yes, Prince Questar... I... can still feel it...," he relied, quietly. Questar grinned, proudly, and punched Techno in the shoulder.

" Yep yep!" he snickered. Techno flinched but made no response.

>From across the courtyard, three large dragons sat in chairs drinking some tea. There was a massive blue dragon wearing an elegant red silk tunic, a beautiful but huge white dragon in a silk blue tunic, and there was a slightly smaller but none the less enchanting half dragon Numan. She looked more like Questar than the other dragons, though her hair was silver and her hide a shimmering gold. She wore a silver tunic and her laughing blue eyes where full of love. Her midsection was slightly swollen but that was normal for one who was expecting.

" I often wonder, brother Levit, why I don't just seal off those dangerous corridors in the Catacombs.... I do fear that a monster may come out and harm dear old Thunder," the white dragon said, looking rather worried. Her green eyes, much like the smaller dragon's, where soft and loving. She sighed and shook her head. " But Thunder insists that I should do no such thing.... not until it has been thoroughly explored...," she sighed.

" Sister Stardust, I would agree with Thunder. 'Tis a shame to let those caverns go to waste. For all we know, there could be another tunnel that leads in to the castle," Levit replied. Stardust sighed and nodded. " Besides, I'm sure Thunder can take care of himself. There's not a bio around that would dare challenge him. Am I right, love?" Levit said as he turned to the smaller dragon. The smaller dragon laughed and nodded.

" Yes, dear. Thunder does have a way of intimidating people," she said. " Though I often worry about the young child, Trrrosta. He's quite energetic, like our son. But taking care of a child near such a dangerous place...?" she added, looking slightly worried. Levit laughed.

" Worry not, sweet Sunstar. Thunder can take care of little Trrrosta," he chuckled. Sunstar smiled and nodded.

" You are right...," she said. She turned and watched Questar continue to 'play' with little Techno. " Oh, dear. We should stop him. He's hurting his young friend!" she said, eyes full of worry.

" Oh, Sunstar, let the boy have his fun. It's not like he's hurting anything but a mutate," Levit said.

" Even a mutate deserves some love," Stardust replied. Levit blinked and looked from Stardust to Sunstar. He laughed and threw up his claws in surrender.

" I never could disagree with you two dolls," he laughed. Sunstar grinned, then turned to her son.

" Questar! Come here, baby!" she called, her arms open. Questar whirled instantly, a huge grin on his face. He ran towards Sunstar. Techno sighed, then approached Stardust slowly.

" MOMMA!!" Questar giggled. He leaped in to Sunstar's arms and tightly embraced her. Sunstar grinned and hugged him. Then she cradled him in her arms. She gently pinched his nose.

" Ooooh! I got your nose!" she said, grinning. She held up her claw, pretending she had his nose. Questar squealed.

" My nose! Gimme my nose baaaaaack, Momma!" he yelped. He waved his arms around, squealing. He tried to grab his 'nose' back but his mother kept her claw out of his reach. " Gimme! You already got a nose! I need mine!" he said. Levit and Stardust laughed.

" He's got you there, Sunstar," Stardust laughed. Sunstar grinned and nodded.

" You reeeeaaally want your nose back?" Sunstar asked. Questar nodded vigorously. " Allright! Here it comes!" Sunstar laughed. She pretended to put Questar's nose back on. Questar giggled happily and hugged his mother. He then let out a tired yawn. Sunstar smiled tenderly and rocked her son. Within a few minutes, Questar was fast asleep in her arms. " He wore himself out...," she whispered, lovingly. Stardust smiled and looked down at little Techno. She reached over and grabbed a cupcake, then offered it to Techno. Techno's eyes lit up instantly and he grinned.

" Thank you, Ma'am!" he said as he took the cupcake and proceeded to shove it in his mouth. Stardust laughed.

" Please, just call me Stardust," she said as she lovingly ruffled the fur on the child's head. Techno grinned and nodded. Stardust handed him another cupcake and a small cup of tea. Techno hungrily accepted both. Levit frowned but said nothing. As she smiled lovingly upon the little child, Levit sighed.

" Aye. You're a true gem, sis. How could anyone ever get along without you?" he said. Stardust smiled back.

" Oh, you tease!" she laughed as she gave Levit a sisterly punch in the arm. Then, the three adults laughed heartily.

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" We there yet?"

" SHHHHH!!"

" I just asked!"

" Well, yes we are and we hafta be quiet!"

" WHY do we hafta be quiet?!"

" 'Cause we dunno who or what is in there," Trrrosta replied as he peered over the rocks at the snowy remains of what once was a temple. The snow was thick upon the plain, making everything white and almost colorless except for a few trees scattered around. They where outside, far from their beloved town, on one of the mountain's few in-grown valleys. In the middle of this particular valley was a temple. It was a wreck. The steeple was leaning too far to the right. The wood had all been rotted away. All that was left was the stone. A cracked bell could be seen through the steeple window. Weeds grew inside the protection of the ruined temple. Trrrosta and Farsight stared in awe. After a time Farsight elbowed Trrrosta, who came out of his state of awe and slowly began to crawl towards the temple. Farsight followed. They creeped along, not daring to make a sound as their paws crunched through the snow. As they approached, Trrrosta thought he heard voices. He and Farsight slowly snuck up and peered inside the window. At the far end of the room, they saw three Palmans searching through the temple. Each wore long black robes and had a sinister look to them. Farsight glanced at Trrrosta, who glanced right back. Trrrosta's ears pricked up so that he could hear.

" It's not here," one of the robed Palmans growled.

" It IS here, you moron. I know it is," the second one growled. The third one shook his head.

" This is total madness. Seeking power from magic other than that of our god? The Dark Forces will flow forth and kill us all," he grumbled. The second one struck him across the face.

" SILENCE! Do you WANT to bring them upon us?!" he growled. The third one said nothing more. The first one peered in to a room.

" What exactly do we look for? It's hard to find something when you have no idea what it looks like," he said. The second Palman snorted.

" It's a BOOK... it's covered in black leather, or so the scrolls told me. And it has a golden lion on the cover, a ruby dragon on the side binding, and a silver ram on the back cover. It's sealed by an emerald snake clip," he growled. His companions blinked but said nothing. They continued their search. Farsight blinked.

" That book sounds familiar... if only I had paid more attention in school...," he grumbled. Trrrosta nodded, sadly.

" Same here...," he said. He looked back at the Palmans. He raised an eyebrow and snorted. " These guys are temple robbers...?" he mumbled. His eyes lit up. " So let's stop 'em!" he said, grinning. Farsight blinked.

" WHY?" he demanded.

" Well... robbing temples is wrong," Trrrosta replied. " It'd also kinda make up for that lady back at the Palman village," he added, silently, as his stomach churned with guilt. Farsight shook his head.

" It's none of our business. It's not even one of our temples. Why should we care?" he snorted. " We should just stay out of this," he replied. Trrrosta blinked.

" But... what they're doing is wrong! The book they want is probably something incredibly dangerous! It'll cause EVERYONE problems sooner or later! Palmans with power are nothing but trouble," Trrrosta said. Farsight blinked and rubbed his chin. It made perfect sense.

" Allright.... so what we gonna do? Just leap in and attack them?" Farsight asked. Trrrosta blinked. He hadn't pondered that aspect.

" Umm... okay! That sounds good," he replied. They nodded to each other. Then, with a leap, they rushed in to the temple. The Palmans were incredibly surprised. Trrrosta leaped and sunk his teeth in to the third Palman's leg. The Palman squealed with pain and hit Trrrosta with his staff. Trrrosta squeaked and went tumbling. Farsight tossed a fireball at the Palman, slamming in to his shoulder. The Palman shrieked and clutched his sizzling arm. The two cubs snarled defiantly and charged the Palman. He yowled. The two cubs clawed at him and tore chunks of flesh, blood oozing from each slice. The other two Palmans quickly tackled the cubs. Being larger than the knee-high cubs, they found themselves at an advantage. The second Palman raised his staff and slammed Farsight across the room. Farsight crashed against the wall, then slid down unconscious.

" Ack! Farsight!" Trrrosta squealed. A tingling suddenly surged through him. He looked up just in time to feel the brunt of the staff slamming in to his face. Then, blackness surrounded him.

Chapter Two

" What we going to do with them?"

" Don't you mean what am *I* going to do with them?"

Darkness was everywhere. Darkness and pain. Trrrosta let out a shutter as he forced his eyes to open. His head ached and his wrists and ankles were painfully sore. Trrrosta glanced around, slowly, as his eyes attempted to focus. Night covered the land. The stars shown bright in the sky, acting as lanterns. The three Palmans were sitting around a campfire, eating a meal of luke warm stew. Trrrosta and Farsight, who was still unconscious, were bound and gagged. They laid against the cold snow, only a few feet away from the Palmans. The crickets sang softly, almost afraid that something in the darkness would hear them. The fire cracked and crinkled as the wood burned, giving warmth and trying desperately to fight off the choking darkness. The Palman the two cubs had attacked cradled his wounds and looked furious. The second Palman was holding something wrapped up in a cloth. Trrrosta couldn't help but think that it must be the book they had been looking for. It made his insides go cold. He had failed utterly. To top off such failure, he had dragged Farsight in to the mess. Both of them were at the mercy of three vermin. Trrrosta felt his stomach churn, again, as the feeling of guilt overtook him. He closed his eyes, trying not to cry. He was too weak to try any form of escape so he just laid there and listened.

" I think we should skin the little monsters. I always wanted a lion skin rug...," the wounded Palman snarled.

" And lose out on a profit!?" the first Palman gasped. " No way! I say we sell the little beasts to a traveling freak show..," he said. He grinned happily as he thought about it.

" I don't care about some profit. I want their heads mounted on silver platters," the third Palman hissed. The second Palman didn't seem to hear the other two. He was too busy looking over his treasure. Trrrosta couldn't help but be terrified. If either Palman had their way, he and Farsight would never see their home again. He couldn't decide which fate was worse. All he knew was that he wanted neither of them. He curled up in to a ball, trying to shut out the terror, the cold, and the pain from his mind. He thought of home and of his Grandfather. Trrrosta fought the tears threatening to come to his eyes. He wanted to go home.

<i> Trrrosta? Where are ya, lad?</i> a voice whispered in to his head. Trrrosta practically cried out in joy. Grandpa!

<i> Grandpa! Oh, Grandpa, I'm so happy to hear you!</i> Trrrosta sobbed.

<i> Where are ya? What's wrong?</i> Thunder demanded.

<i> I don't know where we are! I'm hurting and I'm cold, Grandpa! These... these Palmans tied me and Farsight up and... and they say they're either gonna skin us or sell us to a circus! </i> Trrrosta sniffled. Trrrosta could practically feel Thunder's fury.

<i> Can you see anything, lad? </i> Thunder asked.

<i> No... only lots of snow! </i> Trrrosta replied.

<i>... ... ... No matter. You just sit tight, lad, and I'll come and get ya. Just remain calm!</i> Thunder said. Then his voice was gone. Trrrosta felt oddly warmed up. His Grandpa would save them and tear those Palman to pieces! Suddenly, Trrrosta noticed the silence. He felt the chill return. He dared not open his eyes to see what was going on with the Palmans. Had he somehow hinted that he was awake? Were they staring at him? He waited until the silence became unbearable. Then, he took the chance and slowly opened one eye. The Palmans still sat around the camp fire, except now they were silent. The first and third Palman glared at the second as he paid them no heed. Finally, the first one broke the silence.

" What IS that thing you wanted us to get so badly?!" he snapped. The second Palman made no reply. He moved the cloth to reveal a large book. The one he had described earlier. Trrrosta stared, awed.

" Are you deaf all of a sudden?!" the third Palman snarled. " What's so important about that book!?" The second Palman continued to ignore them and opened the book. Trrrosta glanced over to Farsight. Farsight looked over at him. He had awaken! Farsight looked terrified and confused.

<i> Trrrosta... what is going on?</i> Farsight inquired.

<i> I'm not sure.... but I don't like it,</i> Trrrosta replied.

<i> I knew we should have just stayed out of this,</i> Farsight grumbled. Trrrosta drooped. He felt awful. If he had listened to Farsight, neither would be in the mess they were in at the moment. So much for heroism. Suddenly the Ancient Espers where interrupted by the Palmans, who where obviously getting more furious by the minute.

" ANSWER us!" the first Palman demanded. The second one refused to. The third Palman, irritated, tried to snatch the book away. Before he could scream, he found a dagger lodged in his throat. His eyes rolled back and he collapsed to the ground, bloodied and quite dead. Trrrosta let out a cry of surprise as the corpse landed by him. Farsight whimpered. The second Palman retrieved his dagger from his former comrade and examined it. The first Palman screamed and took a swipe at the murderer with his staff. The second Palman dodged and shoved the dagger in to the first one's gut. The first Palman gasped. His eyes opened wide and he coughed up blood. " J...Jaega.... why...?" the first one whispered.

" Why? Because the book is MINE. I felt the power... and it is mine... I will not share it with either of you. Ever," the second one sneered. He jerked the dagger upward, slaying his comrade. He let the corpse fall to the ground, where it colored the snow crimson. Trrrosta squealed when the one called Jaega turned to look at him. Trrrosta tried to crawl away from Jaega, afraid. If the Palman would so easily kill his comrades, why would he have second thoughts about killing them? Jaega smiled sinisterly and cleansed his dagger on the robes of one of his newly deceased 'friends'. He fingered it and slowly approached the gold lion cub. Trrrosta stared up in terror. Where was his Grandpa? As Jaega approached, Trrrosta's ears flipped back and his eyes opened wide. Farsight gasped and curled up in to a ball. Jaega lowered his dagger and stared down at the small cub. " What an odd creature you are...," Jaega whispered as he nudged Trrrosta with his foot. Trrrosta yelped. Jaega laughed to himself and looked at his dagger.

" Just you wait! My Grandpa will fix YOU!" Trrrosta snapped, trying to sound brave even though he hardly felt it. Jaega looked at Trrrosta, curiously, and smiled.

" Is he now?" he laughed. Trrrosta bared his fangs. " Then I suppose we had better get out of here before he can, correct?" Jaega said. Before Trrrosta or Farsight could say a word, Jaega hit both of them roughly in the head with the hilt of his dagger, knocking them out. He then casually walked over and picked up the book. Putting it in one of the pockets of his robe, he picked up a handful of snow and dumped it on the fire, putting it out. He reached over and grabbed Trrrosta and Farsight by the collars of their tunics and hefted them up. Then, he started off across the snowy plain.

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Thunder growled, furiously, as he came to what was obviously a freshly deserted campsite. Two corpses lay near it, each dead but a few hours. Thunder was disgusted and avoided the corpses. He was no scavenger and would not disturb the dead. Glancing about, the behemoth could see that the children were gone. Thunder hissed, tightening his grip upon his gigantic hammer that he called a weapon. He wouldn't rest until his grandson and friend where safely back home.

Lifespark help the fool who dared to harm them.

Thunder sniffed the air, catching scent of the kidnapper. His eyes glowing a blood red, he tromped through the snow in the direction the monster had taken. He continued on his way, snarling angrily to himself. If he had only come a bit sooner.... but at least the cubs had not been killed. Thunder could tell whenever he tried to talk to them through telepathy. Instead of finding nothing, he found pain and grogginess. They were unconscious. Thunder quickened his pace through the snow, running through his mind all the ways he planned on extracting his revenge from the Palman that remained from the group of three. Not one bio monster dared approach the massive Ancient Esper. Not even the insects sung as Thunder made his way. They were too frightened.

The snow crunched under his massive weight and the wind whispered, as if gossiping with the trees. After a while, he saw a town appear on the horizon. Houses made of wood littered the streets of ice covered cement. Evergreens covered in a coat of white snow were nestled among the houses. It was down-right shabby compared to the Ancient Esper towns but quaint compared to towns of other races. Within the town, one could clearly see a massive temple made from black stone. Upon looking at it, Thunder was sure that it was where Trrrosta and Farsight had been taken. It was a temple honoring one of the gods of the other races. If memory served him, it was made to honor the evil half entity known as the Profound Darkness. But he hardly cared. They weren't his gods nor would they ever be. He preferred his own full entity gods, the dragon twins Lifespark and Corrosion. Thunder clutched his hammer tightly and uttered a low growl. Lifespark and Corrosion were with him, guiding him. He was sure of it. Even when he saw the pure size of the town, Thunder's determination did not waver. He would not rest until he found the cubs or every person in that town was dead.

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" Enter, please," Stardust said. She sat within her throne of gold in the main hall of the castle in the Ancient Esper town. The room was decorated with beautiful tapestries and statues of Ancient Esper warriors and kings that had long passed. Over the throne was a massive tapestry of two majestic rulers. Both wore extravagant robes of gold and silver with the royal crowns upon their heads. The king was a brilliant red, almost ruby. The queen was a deep blue, the color of the deepest sea. Both had noble smiles upon their faces. The floor was made of gold tiles which glittered in the light of the crystal chandeliers.

Stardust looked up as the massive red and gold doors swung open. A beautiful white horse in a pink tunic walked in to the room. She wore a gold breastplate and a gold belt, a deadly sword attached to it. The horse walked up-right, her shining blue eyes where hard and stern. She was the General of the Dezorian Ancient Esper army, General Nan the Ice General. Nan walked up to the throne, full of dignity and grace. She bowed respectfully before Stardust.

" Your highness, I have come to report," Nan said. Stardust nodded.

" What is the news, General?" she asked. Nan looked up, her eyes narrowed.

" All is well in the barracks but I am afraid there is a problem within the city itself. Thunder has left the town in search of his truant grandson Trrrosta and his friend Farsight. Kitti has reported that they are in the hands of three Palmans who have every intention to harm them," Nan replied. The news seem to hardly phase her at all. " Such is what I would suspect of Palmans, highness," she added, with a spit of contempt. Stardust gasped in horror.

" Oh, those poor dears...," she whispered. " Did Thunder inform anyone as to where he was going?"

" No, highness, he did not. Also, within his haste, Thunder left the main entrance to the city open," Nan said, a small hint of disgust in her voice. " We found it open during our rounds and searched the city for any intruders," she added. Stardust nodded and sighed.

" Can we send troops to find them?" Stardust asked. Nan shook her head.

" It would be highly illogical. There is no way to find them and Thunder refuses to give us coordinates through telepathy," Nan replied, indifferent. Stardust groaned.

" Oh, Thunder... I do hope your anger does not get the better of you....," she whispered.

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Trrrosta awoke to find himself in a dark cell along with Farsight. The cell was filthy, with sand colored floors and black rock walls. Dust was everywhere but no weeds. Trrrosta laid on a wooden bed, which was more a shelf than anything else. Trrrosta looked over to Farsight, who was also slowly awakening. He glanced at the cold steal bars that sealed he and his friend inside. Trrrosta shivered. Something about those bars seemed to chill him to the core. Perhaps there was some sort of spell on them? Trrrosta noticed that the bonds had been removed from him. But, his wrists and ankles were raw and bloody from where the bonds had been made too tight. Trrrosta decided to tend to his wounds to get his mind off of his predicament. He whispered quietly, casting a Res on himself. Within a few moments, the bleeding stopped and the feeling returned to his wrists and ankles. Trrrosta glanced over to Farsight, who was casting Res on himself as well. Trrrosta rubbed his sore wrists.

" Do ya think my Grandpa will find us here?" he asked. Farsight looked up. Trrrosta winced and looked away, unable to ignore the accusing hint in Farsight's eyes.

" I dunno...," Farsight replied, as Trrrosta looked away. " I hope so. This place is creepy!"

" What do you think they're gonna do to us?" Trrrosta asked, quietly. Farsight shrugged. Trrrosta poked the walls. A dark energy flowed from them, causing Trrrosta to shiver again. It was not a power from either of the Ancient Esper dragon gods, Corrosion and Lifespark. It must have been from one of the other race gods. He did not know their names, nor did he really care. He walked up to the bars and stuck his head out between them. He looked around and saw that their cells where not the only ones. Though theirs was the only one occupied. Trrrosta blinked and looked around again. No guards. He found this odd. Where were they all? He glanced down farther and looked. He could make out a massive door far down the hall, which was guarded. Trrrosta blinked. There must be a meeting going on, he thought. Suddenly, he heard footsteps. With a yelp, Trrrosta pulled his head back in to the cell and sat on his 'bed'. A tall priest in black robes, followed by three soldiers, walked down the hall. The group stopped right before the cell Trrrosta and Farsight were in. The priest looked down on the two Ancient Espers, who looked back up at him.

" So these are the beasts that where brought in?" he inquired. He leaned closer and looked over the two. " How interesting... their eyes shine with intelligence yet they are nothing but stupid animals," he said. Trrrosta bristled.

" WE ARE NOT!" he snapped. The priest backed up, purely surprised. " We are NOT stupid animals!" Trrrosta snarled, offended. The priest blinked and leaned closer.

" What manner of beast are you?" he asked. Trrrosta made a face at the priest.

" I'm not a BEAST!" he snapped. Farsight stuck his tongue out at the priest.

" I've never heard of a beast speaking....," the priest mumbled as he rubbed his chin, ignoring the cubs' outrage. " Take them to the council. He requires immediate investigation. This could prove to be useful information," the priest said as he pointed to Trrrosta and Farsight. The soldiers opened the door and tried to grab the two. Trrrosta flung himself upon the soldiers, claws unsheathed and fangs ready to tear.

" Run!" Trrrosta cried. Farsight dashed out of the cell and down the hall, looking back only once to see that Trrrosta was following. When Trrrosta tried to run after Farsight, he was hauled off his feet by the soldiers. The soldiers held Trrrosta tightly, who yelped and kicked.

" Forget about that other one... he'll be apprehended soon enough," the priest grumbled, then headed down the hall. The soldiers nodded and followed their leader. As the soldiers dragged him down the hall, Trrrosta bit and scratched at them. The priest paid the struggling soldiers and Trrrosta no mind. He was at too high a position to have to worry about unruly prisoners. The priest approached the large door that Trrrosta had seen before. He motioned for the guards to open it. The guards eyed Trrrosta, then the priest. The priest scowled at their hesitation. The guards, sensing his anger, hurried to open the door. The priest then strolled in, followed by the soldiers and Trrrosta. Trrrosta's eyes opened wide. He found himself surrounded by Palmans wearing black robes. They all carried an evil sense of power about them, causing Trrrosta to shiver. He glanced up to see the Palmans glaring coldly at him.

" WHY are you bringing that monster in here?!" one priest yelled. Trrrosta hissed.

" For the FINAL time! I am NOT a monster!" he roared. The priests stared in surprise at Trrrosta. Another priest walked over to Trrrosta and touched his forehead, having to remove his hand quickly to avoid Trrrosta's snap.

" I have never met any bio monster who could speak before nor see why our god would make one," he said, curious. Trrrosta's eyes flared up. He roared with utter rage and flung a NaFoi at the priest, sending him flying across the room.

" I AM NOT A BIO MONSTER!" he shrieked. He was quickly tackled by more soldiers and forced down to the ground.

" What shall we do with it, High Priest?" a random priest asked. The High Priest, who was the one Trrrosta had attacked, dusted himself off and glared at the cub.

" Throw it in to the pit. Let's see how he fairs along with all the others," he commanded. The other priests cheered in agreement. Trrrosta found himself dragged back out of the large room and down the hall. Trrrosta put up quite a fight but he was soon taken to a large Colosseum. The arena was full of stone slabs and shattered weapons and bloodied rocks, as if an obstacle course. Hiding among the obstacles where Dezorians and a few Palmans, mostly women and children. Bones were scattered about in the dirt ground. At the far end of the arena was a large closed gate. Trrrosta was thrown down in to the arena. Trrrosta landed roughly on the dirt covered ground. The other captives cried out and dashed away from Trrrosta. Trrrosta paid them no mind and dusted off his tunic. He sniffed about and shivered. It smelled like death.

Among the smells was one that belonged to something else.

Trrrosta looked towards the gate. He thought he saw movement and a flicker of sunlight. It must lead to the outside world. A way of escape, perhaps, but something was wrong. What was that shadow between the gate and the outside world? The hair on Trrrosta's back bristled. The cub caught sight of a soldier running towards a lever.

" Say when, my lord!" the soldier called. The High Priest smiled and nodded. The soldier pressed down on the lever and the gate went up, hissing as the rust ground against its joints. A low growl came from the gate entrance, followed by the sound of heavy footsteps. Nails scratched along stone, creating an ear splitting screech.

Trrrosta's ears flicked forward and his tail went rigid. Lumbering from the darkness, a monstrous creature appeared. The creature looked like a lizard with no forearms. It walked upright on two powerful hind legs, muscles rippling with every movement. It had a massive whip-like tail, which it used for support, and a long neck, much like a cobra's neck. It's powerful jaws were full of razor sharp teeth and running along it's back were dagger-like ridges. It's white eyes darted around the arena. It's nostrils flared up, taking in the scents. Trrrosta gasped and shivered.

It was not a bio monster. Bio monsters were creatures genetically made in labs. The creature was native to the Dezorian mountains where Trrrosta's people lived. It was a Tokage. The Ancient Esper mining and farming colonies scattered along the higher peaks of the mountains sometimes had to deal with the beasts. It usually took four or five experienced warriors to take down one of them.

Trrrosta was shocked to see that the vermin had been able to capture such a ferocious beast but it did explain the lack of soldiers the temple had. He had noticed that there were more priests than soldiers. Apparently the endeavor to capture the beast had cost many soldiers their lives.

Trrrosta watched in horror as the Tokage tromped in to the arena, the ground cracking under it's feet. The Palmans and Dezorians in the arena screamed in terror and scrambled to find cover. Trrrosta glanced up to see the priests from the other room sitting in chairs situated high above the arena, out of harm's reach. They were watching, as if it were entertainment. Trrrosta growled. His thoughts were quickly shattered when the Tokage screeched. Trrrosta whirled and gasped. The Tokage was chasing a small Palman child around the arena, it's jaws salivating. Drops of spit oozed from it's fangs. The child cried out and tripped on a rock. The Tokage swerved back and forth, as if a cobra about to strike.

Trrrosta recoiled.

" Why should I care?" he grumbled. " It's a Palman! They killed..,"

Trrrosta glanced at the child, who cried hysterically as the Tokage swerved about it. Trrrosta's ears flipped back and he turned his head away from the sight.

The Tokage hissed with pleasure and swooped down, mouth open. The child screamed for his mother as the Tokage dove for him. Just as it was about to chomp down upon it's victim, curved claws dug in to it's eyes. The Tokage screamed in pain and fury, throwing it's head back and clawing at the earth. The Palman child cried out and ran to hide behind a large rock slab. However, the Tokage could not see the escape of it's meal. All it could see was blood, claws, and golden fur. Trrrosta roared and clawed at the Tokage's face. The Tokage staggered around, shrieking and tossing it's head. Trrrosta sunk his fangs in to the Tokage's nose, attempting to attack while being shaken. The Tokage jerked it's head, roughly. Unable to hold on tightly, Trrrosta was flung across the arena and jarred against the arena wall. A sickening crack echoed through the arena. Trrrosta groaned and struggled to get up, pain lacing through him as his ribs winced in agony. He opened his groggy eyes to see the Tokage charging him. It swung it's mighty tail at the cub. Trrrosta leaped and dodged the tail. Trrrosta leaped up on to a rock slab and started yelling to the creature in his native tongue.

None of the priests or captives understood what he was saying but the Tokage did. The Tokage bellowed out in rage and charged the cub.

Trrrosta stuck is tongue out at the beast, causing the Tokage to seethe. It lashed out at Trrrosta with it's tail, shattering the rock the cub stood on. Trrrosta cried out in surprise and went tumbling. The Tokage hissed and surged forward, jaws opened and ready to crush Trrrosta's bones. Trrrosta squealed and, without even thinking, he hurled a NaFoi right in to the Tokage's mouth. The Tokage shrieked in pain as the insides of it's mouth turned to the color of charcoal. It tossed it's head about, as if to shake away the pain that engulfed the tender flesh of his mouth.

The Tokage hissed, its voice choked, and clawed at Trrrosta, blindly. Trrrosta yelped and managed to dodge the slashes of the furious monster. He rolled out of the way and, accidentally, slammed in to the Palman child. The Palman child wailed and scrambled away from Trrrosta. Trrrosta looked at the huddling Palmans and Dezorians, surprised that they hadn't taken the Tokage's distraction as a chance to escape.

" Run for it! Through the gates! It has to lead out!" he called. The quaking Palmans and Dezorians merely stared at him. Trrrosta glanced, quickly, at the Tokage. The Tokage was looking around for the lion cub. " GO! HURRY!" Trrrosta roared. The Palmans and Dezorians stared.

Behind Trrrosta, the Tokage turned to glare at the cowering victims. Trrrosta felt his fur bristle.

" GO THROUGH THOSE GATES OR I WILL EAT YOU MYSELF!" he snapped, losing his temper. The Palmans and Dezorians scrambled towards the gate to escape, though perhaps moreso Trrrosta than the Tokage.

The priests above the arena growled in complaint but there was nothing they could do; the Tokage was between them and the captives. The Tokage charged at Trrrosta, roaring. Trrrosta dodged the claws of the demented beast. He dashed away from the captives, who were rushing through the gate. The Tokage ignored the scurrying other races, finding the battle more about pride than a meal. The lion cub leaped and dodged the Tokage, panting wildly with fear and exertion. He was terribly afraid of the Tokage, regardless of Ancient Esper abilities. He was but a cub, while it was quite apparent that the Tokage had experience upon its side. He knew, deep inside his stomach, that he couldn't continue to dodge the Tokage forever. If Trrrosta did not escape soon, the Tokage would overtake him and devour him. Trrrosta glanced about, wildly, and ran behind rocks to buy himself time so that he may escape. When the final captive had escaped through the gate, Trrrosta inched towards it.

Unfortunately, the Tokage knew what he was doing. The Tokage whirled and lashed repeatedly at the gate, causing it to crumble. Trrrosta let out a gasp of surprise and horror, his escape route crumbling before his eyes. He fought the desire to wretch, his stomach rumbling from fear.

The Tokage let out an ugly laugh. It turned towards the cub, walking towards it in slow, deliberate steps. It uttered a hiss. Trrrosta prayed to the gods and hurled a NaFoi at the Tokage, which balked and spat out in anger. It's mouth was full of slowly clotting scabs, which oozed of blood. It roared and leaped at Trrrosta, intent on crushing him. Trrrosta squealed and rolled out of the way, causing the Tokage to crash in to a stone slab. The Tokage screeched in pain and tumbled back. It quickly regained it's footing then charged Trrrosta. Trrrosta glanced about wildly, then up at the priests.

" If I get up there..," he thought. " The Tokage can't get me..,"

Delighted with the new escape route he hadn't realized existed, he rose his paws.

" LEVITATE!" he called. An aura of white surrounded him as a mighty power of wind flung him upwards, out of the arena. Trrrosta hovered over the priests, landing behind them. The priests stared in surprise and confusion, having not suspected a cub of knowing such a spell.

Trrrosta, himself, had forgotten that he could levitate himself for short distances and chose not to mention such a thing to the priests. They didn't need to know something that would embarrass him.

The head priest stood up, glaring coldly at the cub.

" KILL the thing! Throw it back to the beast! NOW!!" the head priest of the temple ordered. The soldiers pulled out their swords.

Trrrosta let out a whine and backed up. Being a child, he hadn't predicted the priests deciding to throw the cub back to the Tokage. He turned and attempted to dash away. Three soldiers jumped in his way and swung at him. Trrrosta yelped and fell backwards. He whined again and crawled away from the soldiers. The three approached, raising their swords high above their heads with the intent to hack the cub to death. Trrrosta whimpered, his stomach once again rumbling with complaint.

" I would stop right there if I where you," a voice echoed. The head priest gave a start, surprised. He glanced about, warily. Seconds later, his head exploded with a flash of blood, flesh, and organs. His body collapsed to the ground, blood flowing from his neck in globs. Standing behind the priest, holding a blooded hammer, was Thunder. He glared about, his eyes cold and hateful.

" GRANDPA!!" Trrrosta squealed, delighted. Thunder's face hardened as he looked upon the soldiers, then the Tokage. His face twisted with rage and, with a roar, leaped in to battle. His muscles clenched as he swung the titanic hammer, crushing bones and rock alike with one blow. Trrrosta watched in awe as his grandfather fought. The Tokage roared with delight at the sights of the battle, ripping at any corpse that fell within reach. All the soldiers leapt to attack Thunder but each met death at the end of the massive hammer. Thunder fought as if he were insane, oblivious to the many wounds he received as he extracted vengeance upon the Palmans. Trrrosta's heart pounded with mixed feelings. He found the battle terrifying, as well as horrible. However, Trrrosta also felt a sense of satisfaction at the sight of his tormentors' demise as well as a form of delight. Horrified that he could find pleasure in such a spectacle, Trrrosta shook his head vigorously and uttered a prayer. He then noticed that the battle had ceased. Trrrosta looked up at his grandfather, who limped towards him with a small, lopsided grin.

" Let's go home...," he said. Trrrosta was about to agree when a thought struck him.

" OH NO! Farsight!!" he cried. Thunder let out a weary sigh, then glanced about.

" Don't worry... He's all right," he said.

" Where is he?" Trrrosta asked as he ran to his grandfather's side.

" Right here..," Farsight muttered as he poked his head up from behind a seat. He ran towards the two, his expression sheepish. He hugged Trrrosta tightly, who returned the hug. " A... Are you all right?" Farsight asked. Trrrosta nodded. He glanced, warily, at the Tokage. The Tokage was still devouring the corpses and licking the blood with cruel intent. The sides looked about to crumble from under the Tokage's attentions. Trrrosta cringed. If they did not leave quickly, it would gain freedom while they were still present.

" Let's go home... Okay, Grandpa?" Trrrosta said, trying to hide his fear. Thunder smiled and nodded.

" Yes, lad. Let's go," Thunder said. He closed his eyes. A magic circle of shimmering white appeared about the three, star dust rising to engulf them. With a shimmering flash, the three disappeared.

Chapter Three

Farsight did not understand the fuss. Everyone was making a huge deal over what had happened. Instead of punishing Trrrosta for what had happened, he was being rewarded.

It seemed to utterly ridiculous.

Everyone was acting as if Trrrosta had made a great accomplishment. As far as Farsight was concerned, he felt that the only accomplishment Trrrosta had done was to nearly get them killed.

He did admit that Trrrosta had attacked the guards so that Farsight could escape. However, Farsight felt that he would have done a similar thing if given a chance. Unfortunately, no one else believed that.

It was true that Trrrosta had battled a Tokage, showing altruism as he aided the other victims in escaping. However, there was always the possibility that the victims merely escaped while the Tokage was busy, no thanks to the lion cub.

The fact remained that it was all Trrrosta's fault that the two cubs had been in such trouble in the first place. If Trrrosta had not wanted to try to save the world from an imaginary threat, none of it would have happened.

What truly infuriated Farsight was how Ancient Espers kept telling him how 'lucky' he had been. They couldn't imagine what would have happened if Trrrosta hadn't being there to save him. He didn't understand what they had expected of him but it was obvious he had failed to reach that expectation.

It hurt his soul to think that he had disappointed everyone while Trrrosta had gained such praise.

Farsight and Trrrosta walked down the cavern towards Thunder's shop. Trrrosta and Farsight had made a silent agreement not to speak of what had happened. Trrrosta didn't understand why but allowed Farsight the peace he asked for. As the two walked, Trrrosta offered Farsight a piece of his cupcake. Farsight glanced at Trrrosta, his expression unreadable. Then, he accepted the cupcake. Trrrosta decided to take such an action as a good sign. Smiling, Trrrosta playfully poked his friend. Farsight fixed his gaze on Trrrosta again. After a moment of hesitation, Farsight grinned and poked Trrrosta back. Both smiled at each other, the tension momentarily forgotten.

When they arrived at Thunder's shop, the cubs cheerfully greeted Thunder. It was closing time and there where no customers who had not been served. Thunder approached the two and grinned.

" Trrrosta, I have a surprise for you. I am going to teach you how to be a metal smith," Thunder said, grinning. Trrrosta's eyes opened wide. He giggled happily and hugged Farsight, who hugged him back and congratulated him.

Farsight felt a surge of anger. He did not doubt the reason behind the lesson was because of the incident of before. It seemed that Trrrosta would continue to be praised for making mistakes.

" You may watch too, Farsight, if you want," Thunder said, breaking through Farsight's thoughts. Farsight's heart began to pound with excitement rather than bitterness. He had always wanted to see the furnace area. " But I want both of you to promise me not to try to make ANYTHING when I am not around. Understood?" he said. Trrrosta and Farsight nodded. Thunder grinned and took the cubs in to the back room. It was as hot as an inferno, flame spitting and jumping as if it were alive, but the cubs where too excited to notice. Thunder handed Trrrosta a hammer that Kitti used. It wasn't nearly as large as Thunder's personal hammer. However, Trrrosta noticed that it was still quite heavy when he took it. Trrrosta struggled to keep it off the ground. Thunder ushered the children towards the anvil. " Here! Now... let me show you how it's done...," Thunder said as he began the lesson.

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" Ugh, I don't wanna wear this, Momma! It makes me look ugly!" Questar grumbled as his mother, Sunstar, dressed him. Royalty had particular clothing to wear at special occasions. Questar's outfit consisted of a purple tunic and pants with gold embroidery. Questar cringed as he scratched his arms and chest, the fabric irritating him. Stardust put a charming gold crown around his forehead. It wasn't extravagant, being a gold band with a single purple jewel in the middle. Questar's ears flicked back, annoyed with the troublesome circlet. To finish the outfit, there was a small robe of purple and gold that was all neatly folded out on the bed. Questar was thankful that he didn't have to wear the robe at the moment.

Stardust laughed and shook her head.

" Oh, honey, it makes you look so sweet! Besides, you need to look your best for your Aunt's birthing day tomorrow and I want to make sure the suit fits," she crooned as she tickled her son. Questar giggled, then tilted his head and stared at her. Sunstar blinked, surprised at the thoughtful expression on her son's face. " What is it?" she asked.

" Is it gonna be a brother or a sister?" Questar asked as he pointed at his mother's swollen midsection. Sunstar smiled, blushing.

" I am not sure, darling," she said. Questar blinked.

" Can I hear the baby?" he asked. Sunstar smiled again and nodded. Questar walked up and put his ear up against his mother's midsection. He listened, then giggled. " I feel the baby kicking me!" he cried. He looked at the midsection. " Hurry up and come out, okay?" he said. Sunstar laughed and hugged her son, who smiled and hugged back. " Do you think the baby heard me?" he asked.

" Perhaps, dear," Sunstar replied, smiling.

" Can you have the baby now?" Questar asked. Sunstar blinked, her cheeks flushed, then shook her head.

" No, dear. I can't. The baby will come out when it wants to. But I am expecting it soon," she replied.

" The baby sure is slow!" Questar said, eyebrow raised. Sunstar laughed.

" Yes, the baby sure is slow," she agreed. " But we'll just have to wait and see, allright?" she asked.

" Allright, Momma.....," Questar replied, disappointed. He looked down at the cute outfit he wore. Questar suddenly brightened and looked up at his mother. " Can I take the suit off now?"

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" Hah! This is great! I'm gonna make the best weapons and armor anywhere!" Trrrosta boasted as he hammered at a piece of metal. Farsight watched, interested, as his friend worked. Trrrosta grinned brightly as the burning hot metal shifted under the weight of the hammer. Thunder peered over at his grandson and grinned.

" Yes, you will, lad. You just have to practice," he said, smiling. Trrrosta nodded vigorously, then looked at Farsight.

" So what should I make?" he asked, excited. Farsight rubbed his chin.

" Hmmm.... make a necklace for Queen Stardust! It's her birthing day tomorrow..," he suggested. Trrrosta nodded vigorously.

" Great idea!" he crowed. Trrrosta pounded furiously at the metal, sweat pouring unchecked down his forehead.

There wasn't an Ancient Esper alive who didn't like Queen Stardust, or the younger Queen Sunstar. Their kindness had won them great popularity, just as the Great Emperor had.

Trrrosta wanted to make his first piece of work wonderful, worthy of a present for the Queen.

" Farsight! Could you go pick out some jewels for me to add on?" he asked. Farsight nodded and ran for the storeroom, where Thunder kept barrels of jewels he mined from the deepest parts of the Catacombs. He sorted through the assembled precious gemstones until he came upon ones he liked. Upon his return, he had picked out a different assortment of rubies, emeralds, diamonds, and sapphire.

Trrrosta nodded with approval and continued to pound on the metal.

" This'll be the best present ever!!" Trrrosta said.

-------------------------------------------------------------

The candles danced in the darkness, delicately twirling upon their wicks. The curtains of ebony silk blocked the moonlight from the room, filling it with a sense of evil.

Jaega sat in the dark room, oblivious to the atmosphere about him. He glanced over the book, trying to learn all he can from it's dark magic.

He sneered when he had learned about the fate of the priests at the temple. He had immediately left after depositing the beasts, hoping the beasts or the 'grandfather' would remove the thorns from his side. The priests held him back. Time and time again, Jaega tried to gain more power but the fools somehow thwarted him. He didn't see how the priests could detain his search for power any longer. He figured they had more important matters than him, such as facing their god. He briefly wondered if they would like what they discovered.

As Jaega explored the pages, he felt power pulsate from within the words. He loved the feel of the power. Unlike the meager portion of power that he had been allowed to receive, the power in the book felt limitless. He had totally devoted his life to the cause of the Profound Darkness in exchange for power. However, he was disappointed to find himself receiving table scraps. Feeling betrayed, he had decided to turn to other means.

Jaega laughed aloud. He knew that the book was the means he so feverishly sought. Jaega laughed and hugged the book with sinister joy. Wild with delight, he began to read the runes upon the page. The words seemed to spin a web about him as he spoke them. It started to become difficult to speak, his head pounding with pain. Stubborn, he refused succumb to the pain and cease the spell. He theorized that a little pain was easily worth the power he would receive. He continued the spell.

A shutter ran through him, causing Jaega to vaguely wonder what was occurring. A sharp pain erupted from his back and shoulders. Jaega tried not to cry out in pain, words tumbling free from his mouth. He tried not to hiss in pain as his teeth suddenly cut in to his lower lip. He could taste hot blood upon his tongue. The words continued to escape his mouth, as if his voice had a mind of its own. At the final verse, the words seemed to slice Jaega's body as if they were daggers. Upon the uttering of the final word, the magic hovered menacingly in the air.

With a shriek of pain, wings ripped out of Jaega's back. A tail tore through his robes, the head of a snake forming at the end of it. The snake hissed at him, eyes sparkling, and drooled venom.

Jaega screamed and looked at his hands. He gave a start as fur pushed through his skin. Deadly curved claws glistened in the candle light. Jaega's lower lip trembled with fear. He couldn't understand what was occurring.

He squealed as his shoulders ached. A dragon head burst out of his right shoulder, splattering blood about the room. It's slender neck glistened green. The head of a ram burst out of his left shoulder. It's blood matted fur brushed against his skin. Jaega stumbled about, uttering agonized wails.

To Jaega's increasing horror, his face began to extend. He cringed as he felt his skin stretch. His nose turned in to a snout, covered in midnight black fur. Fangs glistened from his jaw, slicing his lips. His face, once Palman, had shifted to that of a lion.

Jaega glanced about, frantically, as an enormous shutter surged through him. His body began to increase in size, spasming. Jaega screamed, his newly found heads joining in. The entire building crumbled as he surged upwards, his wings beating furiously. His shadow surged and engulfed the town he had taken refuge in.

Jaega roared with triumph. He had never felt so powerful or magnificent in his life. He roared happily as he flew through the night, enjoying the feeling of his newly found power. He swooped and soared, feeling the wind through his wings and mane.

A sudden drowsiness crept in to Jaega's mind. Jaega uttered a grunt as his wing seemed to grow unstable. With a grunt, he landed roughly in to the snow. His muscles cringed, then went limp. His body felt as if it were lead. Jaega's mind swirled with confusion as he found himself unable to move.

" What... ... what is this?" he hissed. He attempted to sit up but found he could not. " I must... I must have used too much of my power in the transformation," he growled. " I exhausted myself prematurely..," he groaned. He felt snow gather upon his back. Jaega's eyes flashed. " No matter..," he drawled, wearily. " I will take a short nap and... when... I... wake... ... I... will... ... ..,"

Jaega was unable to finish his sentence as slept overtook his mind. His head landed against his paws. A soft blanket of snow engulfed him slowly as he lay, inert.

A wind zipped about the book he had discarded, which sprawled out upon the ground. A page flapped in the wind, written in Ancient Esper.

It read: " Beware ye who cast this spell. Though ye may gain power, ye wilt be overtaken by sleep. Thou wilt gain the power thy sought, but thou wilt sleep for an age as it gathers. If thou still find it in thy heart to cast this spell, thou hath been warned,"

The page trembled, then ripped from the book as the wind tore at it. With a flutter, the page drifted about before disappearing in to the sky.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunstar walked down the hall of the castle, trying not to wake anyone up. She had just put little Questar to bed and was on her way to her own chamber. It was quite late and scolded herself for allowing her child to stay up so late. The new sun was due in a few hours. She hoped that going to bed at such horrible hours wouldn't hurt her son.

She looked down and gingerly touched her swollen midsection. It would come soon, she knew. She couldn't predict when, but knew it would be soon. As she walked, she thought about what it would be like to have another little child. She smiled. She was hoping it would be a little girl, having always wanted a little girl. She chuckled softly. Though, she was perfectly happy with Questar. She sighed with relief as she continued to walk.

Suddenly, a sharp pain shot through her. Sunstar cried out in pain and clutched her midsection. Another sharp pain soon followed. She screamed and grabbed on to the wall for support. Within moments, through her pain hazed eyes, she saw her husband running towards her.

" Sunstar!! Sunstar!!!" Levit cried. Sunstar uttered a low cry. Levit rushed to her side and held her for support. " CALL RUDIA!" Levit roared. More Ancient Espers rushed down the hall and to her side. Sunstar wheezed as she felt herself being lifted and carried away.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Sunstar opened her eyes and looked about, her body throbbing and tired. She was in her room, wrapped up in blankets. She saw her husband asleep at the bedside, holding her hand in his. Sunstar smiled and kissed him. Levit opened his eyes and looked up in to hers.

" You're awake!" he cried, smiling happily. Sunstar sighed and nodded. Levit kissed her back, then grinned even wider. " Guess what..," he whispered. As if on cue, Rudia walked in to the room. She was carrying a crying bundle. Sunstar blinked and smiled happily.

" Our... baby...?" she asked. Levit nodded. Nan handed Sunstar the small bundle. Sunstar looked upon her baby and smiled proudly. The baby had the ears, wings, tail, fangs, and claws of a dragon. The hide was a grayish color, soft as leather. The baby's eyes were a gentle blue while the hair was a lovely brown. Sunstar smiled happily and nuzzled her baby. She giggled softly as her baby touched her nose. It had been a girl, just as she had hoped.

" What shall we name it, dear?" Levit asked. Sunstar looked thoughtful.

" How about.... Daystar?" she asked. Levit grinned.

" Daystar... I like it," Levit said. Sunstar smiled and rocked her baby.

" My little Daystar.....," she crooned.

" Can I hold the baby?" a little voice asked. Levit and Sunstar looked at each other, blinking. Sunstar glanced down at the foot of her bed. Standing there was Questar, in his white pajamas with purple rappies. He looked up, his big green eyes blinking. He looked a bit smug for being up when he ought to have been asleep but his parents chose to ignore it. Sunstar nodded.

" Yes, dear.... but you have to hold her carefully.... she's delicate right now...," she said. Questar waddled up to his mother's side and held out his arms. Sunstar carefully put the little baby in his arms. Questar looked at his little sister, who looked back up with big innocent blue eyes. Questar blinked.

" Whatcha name?" he asked. Daystar looked at him, blinking. " Whatcha name?" Questar repeated. " Don'tcha know your name?" he asked.

" She can't talk yet, son," Levit said, smiling.

" Ooooooh...," Questar said. " Okay.... well... dis is how you talk! You put your lips tagetha and say stuff.... like dis!" Questar said the word slowly and exaggerated the facial expressions. Daystar stared at him. " You try!" Questar said. The baby blinked. Daystar tilted her head, then let out a little giggle. She reached up and grabbed Questar's nose and giggled some more. " No! Not your nose! MY NOSE!" Questar yelped. Daystar giggled, then yawned.

" She's tired....," Sunstar said, smiling. Questar blinked and handed the baby back to his mother. " And you should be in bed, young man. March yourself right back to that room of yours and I expect to hear snoring," Sunstar added, grinning. Questar smiled happily, then scampered down the hall and towards his room. Sunstar sighed and cradled the baby in her arms. Levit smiled and walked over to the door.

" Goodnight, love... get some rest," he said as he closed the door. Sunstar smiled wearily and looked down at the sleeping baby. Then, with a heavy sigh, she too drifted off in to a comfortable sleep.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Every Ancient Esper seemed to be going insane as the day of their great Queen Stardust's birthing arrived. The streets and houses where littered with decorations. Everyone was wearing their best clothes. Even the Ancient Esper children, whom were not allowed to go play for fear of getting their clothes dirty.

Farsight and Trrrosta skipped along, happily, as they wore their best tunics. Thunder tromped along behind them. He smiled warmly at the two youngsters. They were so full of energy, just as he used to be a few centuries ago. They walked down the street towards the castle.

" Isn't it great?!" Farsight sighed, the tension of the past few days forgotten. " The parades... the feasts... I even hear King Arkan and King Bahum will be here!" Farsight laughed. Trrrosta blinked.

" King Arkan?! From Rykros?" he asked, surprised. King Arkan rarely ever left his kingdom upon the planet of Rykros. He and his people kept to themselves more than anyone else. The crystal planet of Rykros was usually out of reach of the Algo teleporters, so it was rare that the people would visit. It was always a complicated journey to visit Rykros, dependent upon time and the number of teleportations. Trrrosta blinked and rubbed his chin. " Wow... I only heard tales about him... now I'll actually get to see him!" he whispered in awe. Thunder cleared his throat. The cubs instantly understood and hurried towards the castle. Thunder smiled and followed after them.

As they approached the castle, the cubs caught sight of Prince Questar. He looked totally miserable in his elegant royal clothes. Standing behind him was Techno, who wore his best tunic. He looked slightly downcast but that was to be expected. He was a 'mutate'. To add to such a thing, he was Questar's personal 'playmate'. No Ancient Esper child wanted to be in Techno's position. Questar was said to have King Levit's horrible temper and cruel sense of humor. Some felt that Questar and Techno shared a shaky relationship. Sometimes people had seen the prince play normally with Techno, where no pain was involved for the mutate. However, such games were very rare.

Across the courtyard stood Queen Sunstar and King Levit. Sunstar wore elegant silver robes while her husband, Levit, wore red. In Sunstar's arm was an adorable little Daystar. She was bundled up in a blanket of white. Sunstar gently rocked the babe, smiling, as Daystar giggled happily. Two large dragons, a muscular black one wearing green royal robes and a thin green dragon wearing gray royal robes, approached Sunstar and glanced down upon the baby. Daystar laughed and tried to grab the black dragon's nose.

Trrrosta knew them to be King Bahum and King Arkan, respectfully.

Questar noticed his mother, grabbed Techno roughly, and dragged him along as the prince ran to his mother.

" UNCA BAHUM! UNCA ARKAN!" Questar giggled as he ran towards the large dragons. The two turned and smiled at little Questar. Questar released Techno and looked up at his uncles, grinning. Techno rubbed his arm but refused to let anyone see his flinch.

" My my.... is he not growing big? He will be as mighty as you, brother!" Arkan laughed. Questar puffed up his chest while Levit blushed with pride.

" Gonna be a strong warrior!" Questar stated. The adults grinned at the child, whom puffed up his chest even more.

" Most definitely, lad!" Bahum agreed.

" The best ever," Arkan added. The two chuckled as Questar beamed with pride. The prince turned to Techno and dragged him away from the adults to play. The massive black dragon turned to the others. The adults watched him run off, then turned to each other.

" When will the ceremony begin?" Bahum asked in his deep, vibrant voice. The others shrugged.

" As soon as our dear sister is ready, I suppose," Arkan replied.

" Oh... I'm ready... I think...," Stardust said as she walked down the hall. She wore a beautiful blue dress and a fabulous gold crown full of radiant jewels. Walking behind her was the great General Nan, in full armor. She had a long flowing cape and looked stunning with her gold armor. Stardust's sparkling eyes danced merrily as she walked. Everyone watched in respectful silence as she walked over the glittering gold tiles. She stopped by her siblings. General Nan stopped at a respectable distance from the royal family. Stardust gazed down, lovingly, at the babe in Sunstar's arms. " Might I hold her?" she inquired. Sunstar nodded, smiling, and handed the little bundle to the massive white dragon. Daystar looked up at Stardust, her shining blue eyes wide with curiosity. " Lifespark and Corrosion have indeed blessed us. Not only is this my birthing day, but also little Daystar's," she whispered. The gathered Ancient Espers nodded, solemnly.

It was such an honor for two of the royal blood to share the same date.

Stardust smiled and rocked the tiny babe. She then turned to Sunstar.

" She is indeed a beautiful child. You are to be congratulated," she said, smiling. Sunstar and Levit smiled proudly. " Allright... off to the main chamber. The feast is to begin!" she announced. Everyone cheered. Stardust walked through a pair of massive gold plated doors, carrying Daystar. She was followed by the rest of the royal family, including Questar. Sunstar walked over to her son and picked him up, following the rest in to the hall. Techno followed close behind.

Afterwards, the rest of the Ancient Espers followed.

Levit looked up to his brother, Arkan.

" Now you'll see what a REAL feast is," Levit laughed, elbowing his brother in the ribs. Arkan laughed as well.

" I am a bit worried," he said. Levit blinked.

" About what?" he asked.

" That I may not be able to fit in any of my clothes for a millennium!" Arkan replied.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

The feast was more spectacular than any of the cubs had ever thought possible. Trrrosta and Farsight ate until they felt ready to burst. Farsight licked his fingers.

" Have you ever seen so much food?" he asked, smiling. " I can't remember when I ate so MUCH!" Trrrosta nodded, smiling.

" I could eat forever!" Trrrosta crowed.

Thunder uttered a loud growl of pleasure as he took a huge gulp of wine. The Ancient Espers made some of the best wine in Algo. It was nearly impossible for an Ancient Esper to get drunk so they enjoyed their drink and made it very strong. It was so strong it could kill a Palman, if they were not used to liquor.

Down at the other end of the table, Questar was devouring a massive pie made from various berries. Techno was gingerly eating some strange balls of seasoned dough stuffed with various fillings. Neither were very neat in their habits but no one complained.

Queen Stardust and Queen Sunstar where deep in conversation. Sunstar held her babe in her arms and rocked her. Daystar made no cry of complaint and looked about her in awe.

" This is a marvelous feast, Stardust. Perhaps the best yet," Sunstar said. Stardust smiled warmly.

" Nothing is too good for my people," she said. Sunstar nodded.

At the other side of the table, Levit and his brothers where conversing.

" Another bouncing baby, brother. You lucky dragon you," Bahum laughed as he poked his brother with his long black scaled tail. Levit laughed and shook his head.

" I try... I try," Levit said. Arkan blinked and looked over at Questar.

" Dear sibling, see what your eldest offspring is doing!" he said. Levit blinked and peered over. Questar was poking Techno with a fork. He poked so hard that Techno cringed. Levit shrugged.

" So?" Levit said. Arkan and Bahum blinked.

" But he is hurting the little panther child," Bahum said.

" So what if he hurts a mutate?" Levit asked. Arkan shook his head.

" All Ancient Espers deserve respect," Arkan replied. Levit snorted.

" Don't tell me you've grown soft, brothers?" he asked. Bahum laughed and shook his head.

" Not hardly, brother. I just don't find joy in picking on mutates," Bahum replied. Arkan shook his head again.

" I despise that word. Just because an Ancient Esper has more brains than brawn doesn't mean they are a mutant," Arkan said.

" You only say that because the Ancient Espers on Rykros are thinkers, not warriors," Levit replied, disdainfully. Arkan narrowed his eyes.

" I think brains are far more important than brawn!" he snapped.

" You think too much!" Levit snarled.

" You don't think ENOUGH!" Arkan snapped. Arkan and Levit growled at each other. Bahum uttered a deep growl.

" That's enough, BOTH OF YOU!" he snapped. The two looked up at him. " I will not let you tear this family apart with petty squabbles," he growled. He glared at the two, whom quickly averted their eyes. Bahum narrowed his eyes. " Now stop this. It is our sister's birthing day and she has every right to enjoy it WITHOUT us messing it up!" he snarled. Levit and Arkan nodded. Stardust peered over at her brothers and sighed.

" So this is why our father had us rule different planets," she whispered. " At least on different planets we can't bicker with each other," she sighed. Sunstar shook her head.

" Don't bet on it, Stardust... they'd find a way," she said. She glanced lovingly at her husband, then sighed. Stardust sighed as well and nodded.

Suddenly, all motion ceased.

The royal dragons lifted their heads. Standing in the doorway was a lean orange alley cat. The cat wore a brown tunic and stood upright. He had dark, shifty green eyes. He bore a sinister look on his lean face. He strolled, casually, towards the table. Much to everyone's surprise, he walked towards the royal side of the table. Only royalty was allowed to sit there. The cat was making a bold, and deadly, statement. Levit, Bahum, Arkan, Stardust, and Sunstar stood up, eyes narrowed. Questar hissed, his ears pressing back.

" What do you want, Tray'tor?" Bahum demanded, his deep voice rumbling with rage. His lips curled up in to a snarl.

" That's KING Tray'tor," the cat replied, smiling wickedly. Levit's eyes flared red.

" What do you want, TRAY'TOR?" he hissed. He also bared his teeth at the cat. Tray'tor narrowed his eyes and flickered his tail.

" Why do you still deny me my rightful title?" he asked, coolly.

" Because you are trash," Levit sneered. " You seem to think you rule the world just because you followed The Conqueror so long ago. Well, that's not true and you'd better accept that!" he growled. Tray'tor snorted.

" You have monopolized the throne long enough. It is time for a NEW dynasty. Mine," Tray'tor replied. Growls of rage, indignation, and contempt came from the assembled Ancient Espers. Thunder stood up and clenched his massive fists.

" You have some nerve, Tray'tor," Thunder growled. " Perhaps you have brains too. Now's the time to use them. Leave before you are killed,"

" I thought the punishment for outright defiance of the 'honorable' royal family was imprisonment," Tray'tor said, scornfully. Thunder's eyes narrowed.

" Aye, 'tis. But that'll only happen if we don't LYNCH you first," Thunder hissed. Ancient Espers all around the table stood up, growling. Tray'tor's eyes opened wide. He apparently had not predicted outrage from the public as well as the royalty. He stepped back, then hissed.

" You're making a big mistake! One you'll regret later! You should have accepted me as king!" he spat out. Bahum snapped his teeth together.

" You have insulted this family for the final time. As eldest of the monarchs, I BANISH you from every Ancient Esper town," Bahum growled, pointing menacingly at the cat. " If you even look at a town, you will be killed on sight. Now get out," he added. Tray'tor's face twisted with rage but he backed up.

" You WILL be sorry, Bahum. ALL of you!" he snapped. Then, he turned tail and fled. The gathered Ancient Espers stood in silence. Trrrosta blinked and looked at Farsight. Farsight tilted his head. Bahum slammed his tail down and all the Ancient Espers sat back down. Silence still reigned. Finally, Questar looked up at his uncle.

" I woulda suh'jested we feed him to da Tokages but dey would prolly die from tummy aches. Plus, he prolly tastes icky," he said. Bahum blinked, then burst out laughing. Levit snickered while Arkan giggled. Soon, everyone burst in to laughter.

" Well said, my boy! Well said!" Bahum laughed as he patted Questar on the back. Questar beamed. " On with the feast!" Bahum called. Everyone cheered. Trrrosta smiled brightly and grinned at Farsight.

" I betcha I can eat more pies than you!" he boasted.

" In your dreams!" Farsight crowed.

" Oh yeah? Well let's just see!" Trrrosta laughed as he grabbed at the pies.

Chapter Four

Time passed, uneventful since the night of the feast. Centuries past quickly for the Ancient Espers, which was to be expected.

Trrrosta had grown in to a strapping young Ancient Esper. He had a fluffy gold mane that put others to shame. He was devilishly handsome with soft, tender eyes. He was almost as good a metal smith as his grandfather, who was proud of him.

Farsight had also grown, with shiny gold feathers and a keen eye. He was quite tall and lived up to his name. No one could see farther or better than he. Both had grown to become fine young teenagers.

Trrrosta had earned a name that he himself didn't think he deserved. As time had passed, Trrrosta had preformed accomplishments that had earned him fame. He didn't think much of them, finding them trivial. However, the rest of the city felt Trrrosta was merely being modest.

When on a trip outside of the underground city with his grandfather, he had saved a family from a burning hut. He hadn't thought much of it, feeling that anyone would have done similar.

Another instance occurred while he and Farsight were walking by the castle. The young Questar had climbed to the roof and decided to fly about the city. He hadn't realized that he had no clue as to how to fly. So, when he tried to fly, he instead tumbled to the ground. Without thinking, Trrrosta had cast a levitation spell and caught the young prince. Questar had sobbed in to Trrrosta's tunic, terrified, as the lion floated safely to the ground. Then he returned the prince to his mother, who had rushed out of the castle in mad hysterics. As Sunstar cradled her son, Levit announced Trrrosta a hero.

Through all his successes, he was still the tender, loving Trrrosta he had always been. The only one to change was Farsight. He was moody, dark, and secretive. He hardly spoke a word and, when he did, it was laced with venom. All saw the change but fund themselves helpless in helping him.

Trrrosta hammered at the anvil in his grandfather's shop. He wiped the sweat from his fuzzy brow and smiled at his work. He had been making a lance out of pearl, truly a beautiful weapon. Across the room, Farsight leaned against the wall. He didn't help Trrrosta anymore. For some reason, he had made the decision not to. It disappointed Trrrosta but he wouldn't force his friend to do anything so he worked alone. Farsight watched Trrrosta through narrowed eyes. Trrrosta tried to ignore it.

He dipped the lance in the pool of water by the anvil and then set it on a rack. He stretched and cracked his knuckles. He heard Farsight stand up and retreat through the door. Trrrosta glanced after, then made a determined face.

" Farsight-!" he called, chasing after. Farsight stood, silently, by the door to the waiting room.

" What do you want, Trrrosta," Farsight said, his voice cold. Trrrosta approached his childhood friend and smiled.

" I want to cheer you up," he said. Farsight glared at Trrrosta.

" You've tried that before," he snapped. Trrrosta nodded, slowly.

" I... guess..," he admitted. " But I won't give up," he said. " Let's go for a walk,"

"... ... ..,"

" Please, Farsight?" Trrrosta begged. Farsight looked over Trrrosta, then nodded.

" Fine..," he grumbled. Trrrosta grinned brightly.

" Thanks, pal..," he said. Farsight didn't respond, examining his claws.

The two walked out of the smithy and down the road. Trrrosta glanced at his friend, who avoided eye contact with him. Trrrosta sighed.

After a brief walk, Farsight and Trrrosta passed the school. Sitting on the wall was a group of young female Ancient Espers. The females giggled and winked at the two as they walked by. Trrrosta's ears flicked as they passed, then he looked at Farsight.

" Hey, why don't you get to know one of them better?" he asked, quietly. " I think they like you," he said. Farsight felt his insides burn.

They didn't like him, he thought. They liked Trrrosta. The girls would never have acted that way if Farsight had been alone. Farsight felt rage surge through him.

" I don't want your discarded whores," he spat. Trrrosta recoiled, horrified.

" What?!" he gasped. Farsight leered at Trrrosta.

" You know what I said," he growled. Trrrosta bristled.

" What is your problem!?" he demanded.

" They're interested in YOU!" Farsight accused. " They don't give a damn about me! Stop rubbing it in!"

" I was only trying to cheer you up!" Trrrosta protested.

" Why would I want to be cheered up by a self centered PRETEND HERO?!" Farsight spat. Trrrosta felt his stomach churn.

" Well, why would I want to cheer up some LOSER who needs me to save him all the time!?" Trrrosta rumbled. Farsight glared, murderously, at Trrrosta.

Farsight had always wanted to deny the accusations of failure and it hurt to hear Trrrosta confirm them.

" DID I EVER ASK!?" Farsight shrieked.

Trrrosta glared at Farsight, rage causing him to tremble. He clenched his fists, fighting the desire he had to teach Farsight a lesson.

However, his anger disappeared when he saw the hurt in Farsight's eyes. Farsight seemed to be fighting tears as he struggled for something to say.

Instead of helping his friend, all he had succeeded in doing was harm.

Trrrosta lowered his eyes.

" I'm... sorry, Farsight..," he sighed. " I didn't... mean it... really," he whispered. " I was so angry I just didn't know what to say,"

Farsight didn't respond.

Trrrosta looked up at Farsight and smiled sheepishly.

" I'm sorry for suggesting the girls... I guess I shouldn't meddle in those things," he muttered. Farsight wiped his eyes and made a gruff face.

" It's okay," Farsight said, quietly.

Trrrosta wished he could have believed him.

Trrrosta walked over to his friend and hugged him tightly, muttering another apology. Farsight hesitantly returned the hug and nodded his head.

" Let's... just continue walking..," he muttered. Trrrosta nodded and sighed.

They walked in silence for much of the trip. Neither spoke when they walked past the Ice Cave. Trrrosta looked up, sharply, to see the royal guards at the entrance. He blinked, puzzled, then rubbed the back of his head. He found it surprising that the royal family would call upon the Temple Of The Ice Cave.

The Temple Of the Ice Cave, which was very much alive, could see the future. And it would drop hints to those who dared to ask it. But you had to under-go an emotional test. Your very soul was ripped apart, your weaknesses or your own emotional turmoils were used against you. If you succeeded against them, you were rewarded with the knowledge you sought, though it was always encrypted. If you failed, you lost your mind. Your body became empty, of mind and spirit. It was a high price, which was why only those willing to take the chance would talk to the Temple Of The Ice Cave. The Ice Cave was, somehow, linked to all four planets of Algo. Thus, every capital had access to the Ice Cave. It was unexplainable, but widely accepted.

Trrrosta glanced at Farsight, who wasn't interested in the guards. With a sigh, Trrrosta followed Farsight as they continued onward.

-------------------------------------------------------

<i> Pain.

Death.

Screams of agony.

Blood oozed like water, covering the ground.

Four sets of eyes, each glowing red.

Head of a lion.

Head of a ram.

Head of a dragon.

Head of a snake.

A temple with four pillars shone, the fifth collapsed upon the ground.

The four Ancient Esper rulers, all in glowing armor.

A golden lion held aloft a mighty weapon.

A sword, glowing blue with energy.

Blood.

The ground quaked, splitting the ground in half.

On one side, stood a mighty Ancient Esper warrior.

The other side, a Palman, a Motavian, a Dezorian, and a Musk Cat.

The warrior turned and hurled his spear at them. The spear sliced through the Motavian, blood splattering everywhere. The warrior then hurled a fireball. The fireball exploded, engulfing the Dezorian and Musk Cat with its deadly inferno. Their screams issued above the roar of the flames. The Palman screamed in fear. The Ancient Esper lifted his his hand, another fireball glittering, and... </i>

" NO!" Stardust roared as she reared back. Sweat poured down her forehead and she shuttered. She looked about, wildly. She was alone, standing amid a platform covered in writing. Five pillars majestically held up a giant roof. It glowed, as if a heart beat. Stardust collapsed to her knees and wept. " Oh, Temple... this cannot be...," she moaned. " This cannot BE. What can I do?"

<i> What can anyone do? </i>

" Oh, Temple... this cannot be our future...," Stardust moaned.

<i> What is a future? </i>

" Temple, PLEASE! Stop with the riddles! Tell me!" Stardust pleaded.

<i> I have told...</i>

" Temple!" Stardust cried.

Silence.

The Temple did not speak again.

Stardust wiped the tears from her eyes and stood up. The bitter wind nipped at her, blowing her robe about, but Stardust chose to ignore it. She walked away from the Temple, her heart heavy.

She did not fully understand all that she had seen but one message was painfully obvious. She had been warned of a war.

Stardust's eyes shimmered as she recalled her siblings dressed in fantastic armor. They possessed no such armor, nor a sword that glowed. Stardust's nose wrinkled.

Perhaps the Temple had wanted her to have such weapons made?

She walked by her guards, who stood at the entrance. They turned to look at her, though she did not return the gaze. She turned and saw a golden lion and a hawk walking away. Her eyes widened at such timing. " This cannot be coincidence..," she hissed. She jerked her head. " Trrrosta!" Stardust cried. Trrrosta and Farsight instantly whirled. They gasped and bowed. " Trrrosta! I need your help," she said. Farsight cringed, his eyes dark.

Once again, Trrrosta was the important one.

Farsight glanced at the ground, his expression hateful. Trrrosta noticed Farsight's reaction but said nothing. He glanced up at Stardust.

" My help, your majesty?" Trrrosta asked.

" I need you to forge me weapons and armor..," Stardust said. Trrrosta blinked.

" O-of course, highness... but what shall I make it out of?" he asked.

Suddenly, an earth shattering crash echoed through the Ice Cave. The sound echoed off of the ice and snow, causing it to multiply. The Ancient Espers stumbled about at the might of the echo. Stardust stumbled upon her feet, uneasily, then rushed in to the Ice Cave. Trrrosta, Farsight, and the guards followed.

At the temple, one of the pillars had somehow broke apart. It lay at the foot of the temple, a clean break at the top and the bottom. There were no shards about, nor cracks in the beautiful pillar.

Stardust stood in silence, her expression thoughtful. She looked up at the Temple, then the pillar. She turned to Trrrosta, who merely stared. She pointed to the fallen pillar.

" That," she said.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

A squirrel dashed about on a snow covered hill, chattering to itself. It scrambled among the snow drifts, digging in random spots in hopes of finding hidden acorns. After much digging, it found the sought candy of nature and scampered on to a particularly large snow mound. It glanced about, sitting on its haunches. Suddenly, the mountain twitched. The squirrel blinked and looked about.

There was no sign of another living creature.

It shrugged and chewed on the acorn it had found. The mountain twitched again. The squirrel, thoroughly spooked, chattered noisily and dashed in to the trees.

The snow exploded with a roar. A lion's head drifted upwards, shaking off the snow in clumps. A goat head and dragon head followed suit, their eyes glazed lazily. The creature lifted itself off of the ground, snow collapsing about it. It shook its haunches, the long snake tail snapping at the air.

" How long had I been asleep... ..?" the beast rumbled, grouchily. He yawned and stretched his wings, then flapped them. " Oye... such a long sleep... I guess, Jaega me boy, you needed your beauty sleep," he mumbled. He yawned again and stretched out each of his paws, wiggling the toes lazily. He gave his mane a mighty jerk, sending debris and snow flying through the air. He glanced about until his gaze fell upon a crystallized pond. He peered in to the pond, then laughed. " It did you no good!" he said. He sneered. " If those fools could see me NOW..," he snickered. He leaned back and roared with evil delight.

He would show them all.

He snickered again and leaped in to the air, spreading his wings to catch the wind.

" Who needs Dark Force?! I am the dark god of Algo! I can destroy EVERYTHING that could defy me," he crowed. He broke in to laughter and fluttered in to the darkness.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Trrrosta worked tirelessly, pounding at the anvil. The pillar had taken a long time to melt down, taking extreme temperatures to break through its barrier. The walls had started to melt long before the pillar did. Trrrosta had passed out multiple times, leaving Thunder to finish melting the pillar.

The metal produced from the pillar was gorgeous. The liquid was a swirl of colors, as if a rainbow had been caught in a whirlpool. The colors danced, as if to some beautiful melody, but never mixed.

Panting heavily, Trrrosta set to work with the aid of his grandfather. Neither ceased working at the anvil, determination set upon their faces as they pounded at the metal. Many thought the two would die of exhaustion.

Finally, the city echoed with a cry of triumph and joy.

" WE DID IT!" Trrrosta cheered. Thunder uttered a pleased growl and nodded.

" Aye... we did it. An' a mighty fine job we did too," Thunder said.

" I STILL don't understand how I knew what to make," Trrrosta mumbled.

" I don't think YOU were the one making the choice. I think the Temple made it," Thunder corrected.

" Well, it make the right choice," Trrrosta purred as he looked over his handiwork.

There were eight items in question, each one a rare beauty.

There was a gorgeous silver and gold colored helmet in the shape of a dragon's head. It glowed with a red aura.

A pair of blue and silver colored boots with silver claws sat upon the table, giving off an aura of silver.

A shimmering gold colored body armor hummed lustily from the bench, emitting a brilliant gold aura.

A massive gold colored shield glowed with a green aura, the symbol of Corrosion and Lifespark, glittering brightly.

Twin gold daggers covered in gems glittered with an orange aura while two large, but heavy guns shimmered silver and gold in their aura of purple.

A long, deadly sword glittered, it's aura a sea blue. To the untrained eye, it looked to be made of the finest laconian.

Lastly, but most certainly not least, there was a pair of white claws. Their aura was like all the others combined. It swirled, just like the liquid metal of the pillar had.

All the weapons glittered brilliantly. Trrrosta beamed with pride and gently caressed his favorite weapons, the claws.

" I wonder who will be chosen to use them..," he muttered. Suddenly, he tensed, his eyes opened wide. His hand froze and the aura of the claws seemed to spread to his arm.

" Trrrosta!" Thunder cried.

" Grandpa! Help!" Trrrosta cried.

" I can't, lad! The weapons... they... they possess some of the power of the Temple! If I touch you.....," Thunder whispered. Trrrosta felt fear grow in him. The temple?

<i> Yes, Trrrosta... we are the temple. Just in pieces,</i>

" W... what is going on?!" Trrrosta gasped.

<i> You are to wield the claws... We test you, </i>

" Test me? But why?" Trrrosta asked.

<i> They possess magic... magic of the Ancient Esper world.</i>

" Magic of the Ancient Esper world..?" he gasped.

<i> Yes... they give the power of magic to those who cannot use magic. </i>

" Oh wow..," Trrrosta gasped, his eyes wide. He felt incredibly insignificant when it came to the power of the items he had made. " I am honored, great temple..," Trrrosta said. " I would be honored... to help save..," he began.

" Save? Do you truly think you CAN?" someone sneered. Trrrosta jerked and looked about. He was surrounded by white energy, unable to see his grandfather. Farsight stepped out of the light, his eyes cold. Trrrosta gasped. " YOU cannot save us," he muttered. Trrrosta winced.

" But I'll TRY! You know how I'll try!" he cried.

" TRYING and DOING are two entirely different things," Farsight sniffed. " We need a TRUE warrior. Not some fool who causes most of the problems he solves," he snapped. Trrrosta flinched.

" I may have caused problems long ago, but I always fixed them," Trrrosta said, meekly. " I do what I think is right, no... what I KNOW is right. Isn't that enough?" Trrrosta demanded.

" You are a FOOL. You take foolish chances and endanger everyone. You charge head-first in to a battle without second thoughts about what may happen. You are a fool who chases away his friends," Farsight hissed. " You... Are... A... Fool! A FOOL!" Farsight crowed, jabbing his claw at Trrrosta. Trrrosta felt his insides turning to mush. Self doubt and despair filled him, as well as guilt. It churned his stomach, causing a sensation of illness to spread through him.

Trrrosta shook his head and growled.

" ENOUGH!" he barked. Farsight quieted down and turned to look at him. " I may be a fool... A fool who risks his life for those who need help. A fool who runs around, uncaring of his own safety," he growled. " And that's what we need! A fool not afraid to fight a foe who very well may destroy him. A FOOL!" he shrieked. Suddenly, the light flared up and disappeared. Trrrosta blinked, finding that he could move his body again. He turned to look at his grandfather, who looked at him with concern in his eyes.

<i> So be it... great fool! Be our hero for that is what we need. A fool,</i>

" Trrrosta...?" Thunder inquired. Trrrosta laughed out loud and put the claws on.

" I'm fine, Grandfather," he chuckled.

" Well... allright..," Thunder said, not the least convinced.

" What do we name the items, Grandfather?" Trrrosta asked, trying to change the subject. He had no desire to frighten his grandfather any farther. Thunder rubbed his chin, suddenly diverted.

" Well... what does the Temple... err... claws have to say?" he asked. Trrrosta's eyes grew glazed, then cleared. He laughed quietly, then nodded.

" Simple! The Helmet Of Rykros... The Shield of Palma... The Boots of Dezoris... The Armor of Motavia... The Daggers of Algo... The Guns of The Stars... The Sword Of Hope..," he said. Thunder raised an eyebrow.

" What about the claws?" Thunder inquired. Trrrosta grinned.

" I know a perfect name. The Claws Of The Fool," he said.

--------------------------------------------------

" Sister, are you certain of that?" Bahum said as he gazed upon his sister. He adjusted his robes and itched one of his ebony scales upon his chin. Stardust nodded. "... The Temple of the Ice Cave told you this?" he inquired. Stardust nodded again, more sadly. " Well... that settles that," Bahum said as he crossed his arms.

" What do you mean by that?!" Levit snapped.

" It means, sibling, that we have but no choice to hunt down this demon the Temple spoke of and destroy it," Arkan said. Levit snorted.

" We have EVERY choice. She could have just misunderstood it," Levit snapped. Sunstar winced at her husband's coarse words and continued to rock little Daystar. Daystar yawned and snuggled in to Sunstar's arms, oblivious to the tensions. Stardust shook her head.

" No, brother Levit. I am sure of what I saw," she whispered. She hated arguing with her brother but she was sure that she was right. Levit snorted. Bahum slammed his tail down, angrily.

" Do not tell me, BROTHER, that you are too cowardly to fight?" he demanded. Levit's scales turned a darker blue as his face contorted with anger. Arkan shook his head.

" Brother... if you don't care about your people, fine. But at least think of your wife and two children," Arkan said. Levit's gaze turned to Sunstar, who hummed softly to the sleeping Daystar. She did not meet Levit's gaze, attempting to remain apart from the conversation. Levit turned to his brothers and nodded.

" Allright. Let us go and fight this demon," he growled, sulkily. Stardust let out a silent sigh of relief. Sunstar smiled to herself as she brushed a lock of Daystar's hair from her face.

" When do we leave?" Bahum asked.

" Just as soon as young Trrrosta and Thunder are done," Stardust said. She felt a sense of relief that the matter would be dealt with. However, she couldn't shake the horrible ache in her chest.

Chapter Five

Dawn.

The sun rose over the snow covered mountains, its rays glistening off the ice.

The rock and stone sliced through the air, attempting to remain above snow while the white blanket covered it.

Upon one of the snowy ledges stood a golden lion with a thick, radiant mane. He wore armor of gold, hugging his frame tightly. Upon his hands were deadly claws glowing with beautiful rainbows. Sleeping among burnt trees was a giant monster of a hideous nature. He had a head of a lion, the head of a ram, and the head of a dragon upon his mighty shoulders. He had gleaming bat wings upon his back and his tail was an emerald snake. He was so large he dwarfed the trees he slept among.

The lion uttered a high whistle.

A moment later, another whistle echoed back.

>From over the mountain ride appeared four heavily armored dragons, a white horse, a black and red dragon, and a golden eagle.

Arkan stepped gingerly forward, wearing the Helmet Of Rykros and the Guns of the Stars.

Levit glowered about, holding the Shield of Palma and the Daggers of Algo.

Stardust stared quietly at the beast, wearing the Boots of Dezoris.

Bahum crossed his arms, muscles clenching, while wearing the Armor of Motavia.

Nan stood silently, as cold as ice, as she held the Sword Of Hope.

" What is that..?" Arkan gasped.

" It is the beast... Jaega, I believe Stardust said," Levit mumbled. " He doesn't look so tough,"

Nan glanced to her highness, then back at the giant beast. She felt every pore clench at the prospect of battle.

" We will be victorious," she thought, curtly.

<i> So says the General, who is not, </i>

Nan's body tensed instantly as the voice sliced through her mind. She glanced, sharply, down at the Sword of Hope. It glowed softly in her hooves, pulsating with energy.

" What..," she muttered under her breath.

<i> No General at all; the path will split in two. The blood of innocent traitors will soon discourage you. You will chose the path that will shatter your heart. Ice General, you will melt apart, </i>

" What nonsense..," Nan hissed. She blinked quickly when she noticed she had spoken out loud, then shook her head and glared at Jaega. She would have no more of such nonsense.

Stardust peered at her brothers and company. She shook her head, then turned her attention back to the beast who slept within the burned ashes of what was once a forest. She narrowed her eyes and breathed in the crisp air. It stung her lungs.

" Are we ready?" she whispered.

" Yes Ma'am..," Nan muttered, her voice tight.

" As ready as we'll ever be, sister," Bahum growled, his lips curled up in to a growl. He waved to the lion, Trrrosta. Trrrosta nodded, then began to approach the beast. The wind nipped at him as the snow caved under paw. As he approached the beast, it could be seen that his teeth were covered in blood and bits of tattered clothes. Trrrosta's ears flipped back. He despised the other races but knew, deep inside, that no one deserved to be devoured. With a growl, he dug his claws deep in to the beast's lion nose. Jaega leaped back, roaring in pain. As he did, the claws sliced the lion head's nose wide open. Blood flushed from the wound, clogging Jaega's nose.

Jaega screeched out in pain and rage. At that moment, he felt searing pain as Nan leaped in, the sword of Hope digging deep in to his side. Blood splashed outward as the muscles tore. Jaega spat out a growl, his acid blood splashing against Nan's armor. Nan cried out as her armor sizzled and began to melt away, burning her chest. Jaega whirled and snapped down at Nan with his hideous snake tail.

" BARRIER!" Arkan commanded. A small magic circle of blue surrounded Nan, then snapped in to place with a soft glow. The snake head bounced off of the force field around Nan. Nan leaped back and growled, preparing for another attack to rectify the humiliation of requiring a barrier. Stardust dashed towards Nan.

" NaRes!" she chanted. A soft white glow appeared about Nan, healing the vicious burns.

Levit parried a slash from one of the mighty claws of Jaega then snapped down upon it with his mighty jaws. A sickening crunch echoed through the valley as Jaega reared back in pain. Bahum growled and slashed at the beast with his sword, hoping of overwhelming the beast with his brother. Jaega whirled about and slashed at Bahum, leaving a horrible gash.

Stardust gasped and made to dash towards her brother to heal him but the snake head snapped down at her. Before the snake could take hold of the queen, Trrrosta roared out and dug his claws right in to the snake's eyes. The snake shrieked out in pain, green ooze and blood dripping from it's mangled eyes. The snake tossed it's head about, screaming in pain.

Arkan threw his daggers at the snake, both embedding themselves in to it's neck. The snake spewed out green blood, then fell limp against the snow. Jaega roared out in pain and butted at Arkan with his ram head, sending him sprawling. Trrrosta growled angrily and lashed out at the ram head as it jerked back from Arkan. The ram squealed in pain, then slammed in to Trrrosta. He flew through the air and landed roughly in the snow, twenty feet away. He did not get back to his feet. Jaega howled out his triumph and lashed out at the remaining trouble-makers.

With a sudden surge of power, Jaega spit black fire at Nan, scorching her. Nan grit her teeth against the onslaught but, when she could take no more, wailed out in pain. The fire disappeared with a flash and she fell to the ground, limply.

Stardust bit her lower lip and rushed towards Nan, her eyes glancing at Trrrosta as well. Just before she could, another scream echoed. Arkan went flying and skidded across the snow before finally coming to a stop. The snow turned red about him. Stardust felt a lump form in her throat.

Bahum and Levit battled viciously, slashing at him. Jaega cringed at the attacks, blood oozing from his many wounds. With a shriek, he leaned back on his haunches and swung a titanic paw at the two, sending them both in to a pile of rocks. Their bodies smashed against the cold rocks and did not move.

Jaega panted heavily, his breath turning to fog. Blood dripped from his coat, crystallizing due to the horrible cold. He uttered a pained laugh, his eyes wild with glee. Jaega turned to look at Stardust, who stared at him in horror.

" You are all that is left..," Jaega hissed, grinning evilly. Stardust stepped back. Despair filled her soul as she realized that they had not been ready for such a creature.

" If there was ever a time that I needed you... it's now, Temple... oh Lifespark, did I misunderstand? I've doomed my family..," her mind wailed. " I wish... I wish there was something I could do... anything..," she thought.

A tingling sprung through her as the boots began to glow brightly, causing Jaega to spring back in alarm. Stardust's eyes opened wide. A warm feeling poured through her as words seemed to echo through her mind.

<i>For those you love... would you die?</i>

" Temple..," she breathed.

<i> For those you love... is your life forfeit?</i>

Stardust gulped down air, her heart pounding.

" Temple... how may I save them?!" she whispered.

<i> You know what you are to do,</i>

Stardust gasped sharply, the air slicing her mouth. She cast her brothers a glance, tears poured down her face. She set her jaw and whirled towards Jaega. " We have not lost yet," she hissed, her voice choked. " I will defeat you,"

" How so, little one? How can you defeat a god?" Jaega sneered. Stardust closed her eyes.

<i> For those you love... is your life not forfeit..?</i>

" Yes... it is..," she muttered.

<i> Then do so... you know what to do,</i>

Words filled her mind, followed by enchantments. The boots glowed softly, surging energy up her legs.

Stardust opened her eyes, tears pouring down her cheeks. She gulped down the lump in her throat and hissed.

" Raifu... Ginsei..," she moaned.

The world seemed to snap in to position as a flaming aura engulfed Stardust. Rings of fire swirled about her, dancing in the cold wind. Stardust was filled with an inferno. Stardust choked down fear and pain as her body quaked. The boots flashed brilliantly, as if sending vast amounts of energy in to Stardust.

With a cry of defiance and anger, blue and white fire burst from Stardust's body and slammed in to Jaega. Jaega shrieked out in pain as he felt his body melting. He could feel his own blood turn to lava and seep through his skin. With a shriek, Jaega tilted back his head. He closed his eyes, uttering a low moan. He wailed as the fire seemed to explode outward. The explosion whirled around, lighting up the entire valley.

As suddenly as it had begun, the explosion ended. An energy of pure ebony twirled about in the air, writhing in agony and anger. With a shriek of vengeance, it surged in to the air and disappeared in to the clouds.

Glittering in the sky, six little whisps of energy fluttered down and rested upon each of the fallen warriors. Trrrosta's mane flared up as he opened his eyes, blinking. Arkan, Bahum, and Levit twitched, then gasped and gulped down fresh air. Nan groaned and rubbed her head. She glanced about, her eyes clouded. Her face paled and she screamed.

In the middle of the field was Stardust. Her chest was nothing but a mess of blood and mangled tissue. The snow about her was stained crimson and her eyes were clouded. Arkan wailed and rushed to his sister's side, as did Bahum and Levit. Trrrosta scrambled over and collapsed by Stardust as Nan stumbled over, tears pouring down her face

" Queen Stardust!" Nan wailed. Stardust moved her head, slightly, her dimming eyes glittering faintly.

" We have won..," she wheezed, blood pouring from her mouth. A strangled sob escaped Nan, her ice melting briefly to be replaced by grief.

" We need to get her help!" Nan cried. Stardust smiled, painfully, and tried to shake her head. She failed, instead coughing painfully.

" I'm... too far... gone..," Stardust whispered, her voice growing faint. Nan grabbed Stardust's claw.

" NO! You.. You CAN'T die!" she pleaded. Stardust merely smiled. Tears poured, unchecked, down Arkan's eyes. Bahum uttered a choked growl, his eyes drowning in tears. Levit bowed his head. Trrrosta bit his lower lip to prevent outburst. Stardust continued to smile through her pain.

" De... dear brothers... Nan... Do... t.. ell... the.. children... I... love... them..," she wheezed. She reached up and gently stroked Nan's cheek. " Never... let them... forget... ... me... ... ... ... ..,"

The light disappeared from her eyes and her mangled chest ceased it's moving. Her hand dropped to the ruby stained snow. Nan uttered a heart rendering wail and fell against her queen. She sobbed in to Stardust's lifeless corpse. Trrrosta broke in to tears and covered his eyes. Arkan let out a strangled sob as Bahum bowed his head and mumbled a prayer. Levit's face hardened drastically with rage and bitterness. With a growl, he whirled and stormed away. His departure went unnoticed by the grieving Ancient Espers.

Nan ripped her armor off and hurled it away from her, as well as the Sword of Hope. It landed in the snow by her armor with a clink. Nan collapsed to her knees and sobbed in to her hands. She slammed her fist in to the ground.

There was not a dry eye among the group, nor was there ever a dry eye for years to come.

-------------------------------------------------------

Questar walked down the hall to the palace, a dismal expression on his face. His youthful body was strong and fit, as was expected for an Ancient Esper of his age. He had grown considerably, barely beginning to stumble upon the threshold of adolescence.

He ran a claw along the wall as he walked, his ears flickering at the sound. He could ear Techno scuffling behind him, quietly keeping up with the prince. Questar had grown accustomed to Techno's company, which he knew greatly angered his father. He also suspected that the fact that Techno never attempted to run away also influenced the paternal rage. It seemed senseless for Techno to remain by Questar's side. Levit had hoped, desperately, that Questar would either kill Techno or chase him away. He found that a prince shouldn't be around a mutate but didn't take steps to remove the disgraceful creature.

Questar shrugged his shoulders, discarding such thoughts, and continued down the hallway in silence. Words seemed out of place with the present mood. Ever since his Aunt died, Questar's entire world had been scrambled.

His father, upon returning from the funeral for Queen Stardust, had locked himself in his room for months.

Questar shivered as he recalled the funeral. The royal family were buried in the Caverns of Draco, the Father Emperor. The body, as customary, was wrapped in silk and placed in a coffin of gold. He remembered vividly how alive his aunt had looked inside her coffin, wrapped in white silk. He had been unable to keep himself from crying when the royal guard, lead by Nan, had carried the coffin through the Caverns of Draco. All of the tombs inside the Caverns were marked by life size marble statues of the deceased, who stared outward with noble dignity. The coffin had been passed under their marble gaze, then placed in Stardust's tomb. The Boots Of Dezoris had been placed upon her feet, then the statue secured.

Questar had felt a lump of bile fill his throat at the sight, his heart aching. He had never wanted to say goodbye to someone he loved. He hoped, desperately, that he never would have to again.

Questar shook his head and mumbled. Such thoughts plagued him, pushing him slowly to the brink of tears. However, he refused to cry in front of Techno. He would not humiliate himself.

With a jerk, he came to a stop before the throne room. He peered inside and saw his uncles, mother, and father. Daystar was waddling around, poking statues with blissful ignorance. Questar silently envied such ignorance.

His uncles were arguing angrily while his mother, Sunstar, watched over Daystar. Levit snapped his jaws together.

" It's all YOUR fault!" Levit roared as he pointed a claw at Arkan. Arkan recoiled.

" MY fault!? How is this MY fault!?" he demanded, aghast.

" YOU should have cast better defense spells! It is YOUR MAGIC FIELD!!" Levit shrieked. Arkan backed up, his older and stronger brother dwarfing him in a shadow of anger. Bahum growled.

" Brother, it is NO ONE'S fault!" Bahum snapped. Levit whirled towards him, his eyes glowing with anger. " We did our best,"

" YOUR best wasn't good enough!!" Levit snapped.

" And what about YOU? YOU were there as well!" Arkan snapped. Levit looked about ready to strike Arkan.

Questar turned and walked away from the throne room, his grieving heart unable to take the sight of his family fighting. He sighed and itched his neck. He could feel Techno prowl closely behind him. Questar was partially thankful for Techno's company.

Questar peered out a window of the castle in to the town below, attempting to distract his thoughts. People scurried about, oblivious to the fighting within the castle. The citizens continued about their daily lives, content to their thoughts.

Questar swished his tail and itched his neck. Unconsciously, his mind drifted. His father had said that his Aunt's death was the fault of the other races. If they weren't so greedy and power mad, he explained, his aunt wouldn't have had to sacrifice herself. However, his mother felt entirely differently. She did not feel it was right to blame so many for the greed of one. Questar couldn't decide who to listen to. He hated it when his parents fought. They had never argued before but, since his aunt died, it seemed that the two of them were drifting apart.

Questar briefly wondered if such a change was his fault.

Suddenly, a sharp movement of fur and the smell of danger caught Questar's senses. Techno, himself, seemed to sense the same thing and tensed up. Questar glanced sharply at the fur, eyes narrowed. Strolling, confidently, towards the castle was Tray'tor. He looked as mangy and smug as he had during the feast. Questar whirled and dashed back towards the throne room.

" Papa!" Questar yelled, trying to get his father's attention. Levit turned and stared at Questar. The eyes were so cold that they frightened Questar. He stopped in his tracks and recoiled, uncertain. Levit's eyes narrowed.

" WHAT do YOU want!?" Levit snarled, venomously. His tone and expression were that of pure disgust, as if he considered his own son to be upon the same level as Techno. Questar's insides turned to ice. He hadn't missed the slight hint of anger. It reinforced his belief that much of the problems occurring were because of him. It made him want to cry.

Sunstar hissed. His mother glared at Levit, her eyes violent and angry. Levit recoiled slightly and avoided her gaze. His face softened towards Questar; but it didn't make Questar feel any better.

" What is the problem, Nephew?" Arkan inquired, his eyes trained on Levit.

" Tray'tor is here...," Questar replied, his eyes switching from his mother to his father. His mind screamed at him, pointing out the fact that the two were about to fight because of him. He closed his eyes and gulped down air. Levit stiffened. A slur of curses streamed from his mouth.

" How dare he show his face...," Bahum snarled. At that moment, Tray'tor strolled in to the throne room. Behind him, the guards lurked. They had every intention of ripping Tray'tor apart where he stood. However, the look in Bahum's eyes told them to wait. Bahum glanced at Tray'tor and bared his fangs. " What do you want," Bahum growled. Tray'tor seemed to ignore him and smiled at Questar. Daystar waddled over to her brother and hissed at Tray'tor. Questar scooped his sister in to his arms and backed up, his eyes trained on the intruder. Techno followed him. Tray'tor strolled inside the throne room, smiling widely. Bahum, Arkan, and Levit glared at him. Sunstar narrowed her eyes.

" What are you doing here?" Arkan demanded. Tray'tor continued to smile.

" Oh, just come to brag. I've established my own little kingdom," he said. " All I need are citizens," he added. Bahum raised an eyebrow. " You see... I've created my own little city. All I need is to snatch up your subjects and move them there," he continued. He grinned at Questar and Daystar. " Indeed, we'd need strong young lads and lasses like these two over here," he added as he approached the two. Questar curled his lips up in a snarl while Techno hissed. Tray'tor continued to approach the two until an inhuman screech sent him scrambling. Sunstar spread her wings and growled, her eyes flashing. Tray'tor coughed and adjusted his tunic, eying Sunstar nervously.

" No one will go. They are happy here," Levit growled.

" They will be forced there," Tray'tor explained. Levit laughed heartily. " How, you might ask?" Tray'tor inquired. He leaned forward, eyes sparkling. " Jaega,"

" WHAT!?" Levit trumpeted.

" Or, rather, the spirit of Jaega," he drawled. " I managed to... apprehend... Jaega's wayward soul after you had so cruelly eradicated his body. He was very upset, crying for revenge," Tray'tor sighed, in mock pity for the suffering of the beast. " So I gave him the opportunity to do so. I gave him a golem body, created in the furnaces of my city. Now, I not only have my army, which is mobilized, but also the very monster who murdered your sister! With his aid, I will create my empire and watch you die," he sneered. Bahum bared his fangs while Levit clenched his fists.

" How could you... do such a thing!?" Arkan demanded.

" That is my secret," Tray'tor responded. Levit growled.

" GET OUT," he screeched. Tray'tor shrugged.

" Suit yourself!" he quipped. With an obnoxious laugh, he strolled out of the throne room. Levit whirled towards his brothers, his body trembling with rage and the memory of his sister's murder. " What do we do?" he demanded.

" What CAN we do?" Bahum muttered.

" The army is simple enough to deal with but... the beast..," Arkan mumbled.

" If I only had taken our army and slaughtered those damn Palmans... and the REST of the trash... this wouldn't have happened!" Levit thundered.

" THAT would have solved nothing!" Sunstar snapped, suddenly leaping to her feet. Levit turned to glare at her as she tossed her head, defiantly. " Murdering innocents wouldn't have solved anything!" she challenged.

" Jaega would never have been born!" Levit sneered.

" Genocide is never the answer!" Sunstar hissed.

" Oh, and I suppose feeding them is?!" Levit retorted. " You go down to those pathetic, god forsaken towns and feed that vermin our food!"

" We can't just let them starve to death!" Sunstar protested. " They had a bad harvest and children are starving!"

" LET THEM!" Levit cried. " Let them die! Save us the trouble of doing it!"

" That's horrible!" Sunstar protested.

" That's what they deserve!" Levit charged.

" ENOUGH!" Bahum roared, shaking the room with his roar. When the room had finally ceased moving, Bahum glanced at Levit and Sunstar. " Drop it," he growled. Sunstar glared at Levit, who bared his fangs and snorted. With a hiss, Sunstar dashed past her husband and picked up Daystar. Then, she ushered Questar and Techno to follow her out of the room. Levit watched her leave, then glanced at his brothers. Neither seemed pleased with him. Levit's nose wrinkled, then slammed his tail down. He took a deep breath and uttered a mighty roar.

" TRRROSTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Chapter Six

A hawk circled the sky, screeching lustily as it eyed the snow drifts for prey. The rodents scampered for cover, hiding beneath logs and bushes with hopes of avoiding death. Many escaped, yet some did not. The hawk flapped its wings and dove at a mouse, which could not find cover quickly enough. With a downward slash of its talons, the hawk snared the mouse and soared back in to the sky. The predator had caught its dinner.

It was not the only predator hunting.

A gray wolf stalked up upon a rock. The gray wolf glanced about with soft hazel eyes. A light gray fur surrounded his eyes, giving the impression of a fiery mask. He glanced about, warily, and sniffed the crisp air.

" Anything, captain?" a curt voice demanded. The wolf bowed his head and turned about.

" Yes, Ice General," the wolf responded. As the wolf spoke, Nan trudged through the snow. Her hoof rested upon the hilt of her blade, as if she suspected attack at any moment. " At the pass," the wolf continued. " A small camp of soldiers are resting,"

" Which direction," Nan barked. The wolf turned his head and motioned, with a jerk of his head.

" North," he responded. " On the eastern bank,"

Nan scowled and glanced in the direction, squinting. In the distance, a frozen river twisted about the plains. The water glistened as if it were glass, reflecting the images of Ancient Esper soldiers. A troop of thirty Ancient Espers sat along the river edge, resting in their tents of green and white. The Ancient Espers wore Dezorian uniforms, which had been dulled due to age. However, the uniforms had been edited to suit Tray'tor, bearing the mark of a tan wild cat upon the shoulder. Nan sneered.

" Fools," she whispered. The wolf glanced at Nan, patiently. " They will rue the day they allied themselves with Tray'tor," she spat. " They will wish they had died at the Great Emperor's hands... back when the Thirster was defeated," she muttered. The wolf nodded, solemnly. Nan flicked her mane, then glanced towards the wolf. " Have the troops suit up," she ordered. The wolf nodded again. " Then..," Nan continued. " Meet me in my tent. We will make examples of these traitors,"

---------------

Trrrosta and Farsight journeyed deep through the snow, their clothes damp and freezing to their bodies. The snow clung against them, deep and treacherous, while the wind snapped at their bodies.

The landscape was rocky and foreboding, with vicious mountains reaching for the skies. Trees were rare, the earth choked with rock so that it could not support life. Cover was poor, which both knew. Thus, the two were forced to travel during the night and during the worst of storms with hopes of concealing themselves for as long as possible.

Trrrosta trudged through drifts, plowing a path that Farsight then followed. Neither spoke as they walked, lost in their own miseries of snow and ice.

Trrrosta's eyes narrowed as the snow seemed to veer downward. He stopped short and dropped to his knees. Farsight followed his lead, his face expressionless. They had arrived at a deep canyon within the mountains. Trrrosta glanced about, ears flickering. To the far left of the canyon was a hideous mockery of a castle. It was carved, crudely, in to the mountain side. Orange banners with Ancient Esper writing fluttered in the wind.

Trrrosta knew it must be Tray'tor's castle.

He adjusted his Claws and glanced about, attempting to find sight of Jaega. Farsight remained motionless.

Trrrosta shook his head, quietly. He had never expected a second chance to face off against Jaega, nor had he ever hoped for one. His stomach churned at the idea of the demon, whom he knew he had to defeat. It seemed to be an impossible feat. His only hope, he thought, was to defeat the beast with his mind and not his brawn.

As his mind wandered, the earth suddenly took to shaking. The violent movements of the ground snapped Trrrosta out of his thoughts. The lion glanced about, questioningly, while Farsight scanned the castle. Neither could find the source of the trembling. However, the source made itself known moments later. A hideous, hollow roar issued from within the canyon. The two Ancient Espers snapped their gaze about to stare.

>From around the corner of the canyon lumbered a giant stone bull.

-----------------------------------------------

The sun rose, quietly, over the icy plain. It sparkled off the snow, creating the image of silver and gold. Tents nestled among the sparkling snow stood tall against the sun, as if to insult it. The river moved under its frozen cap, the freezing liquid almost barren of life.

Ancient Espers dressed in the tattered uniforms of Tray'tor woke quietly and went about their business, cooking food and sharpening weapons. None of them spoke, nor seemed mildly concerned.

If they had been, perhaps the oncoming slaughter would have been avoided.

A hiss pierced the wind. Seconds later, a titanic icicle sliced through the back of an Ancient Esper, pinning him to the pot he had been stirring moments before. He shrieked, blood shooting from his mouth and nose, as well as coating the glittering ice dagger. He twitched, then went still and fell forward in to the pot, blood mixing with the steaming beans.

Anarchy took hold of the camp as Ancient Espers scrambled about. As they scampered, more icicles hailed down upon them.

Screams filled the air, followed by wails of pain. The snow was drenched in blood, creating a sticky soup when it touched the snow.

As suddenly as it had begun, the icicles ceased and a terrible silence filled the air.

>From out of the forest prowled General Nan and her troops, their expressions bleak as their hands glowed softly from spent magic. The gray patched wolf prowled forward and sniffed the snow.

" None survived," he whispered. Nan's cheek twitched. The wolf glanced, questioningly, at his general. " Your punishment is as swift as always," he murmured.

Nan didn't seem to hear him, her jaw clenched. She felt an odd feeling of pain and discomfort in her chest, which surprised and shocked her. During all the wars previous, she would never have felt pity or remorse for such a vicious slaughter. However, deep inside her soul, it ached to see the twisted bodies of Ancient Espers pinned to the snow by red stained icicles.

She couldn't understand such discomfort. She had killed thousands of Ancient Espers during the past. It was merely protocol. However, for some bizarre reason the death of the traitors bothered her to no end.

It felt as if she were witnessing Stardust's death all over again.

Nan shook her head violently and cringed.

" General?" the wolf inquired, his eyes upon Nan. " What is it, general?"

"... nothing," she muttered. " Report back to base and inform second-in-command Fenrir of our success,"

" Yes, ma'am," the wolf said. With quick movements, he bound away. Nan glanced after him, then at the ruins of the camp.

The image of Stardust, lifeless and bloody, appeared in Nan's mind once more.

Nan bit her lower lip and closed her eyes.

" Why does it hurt?" she thought, bitterly. " What sort of general feels pity for what she has done to traitors!?"

<i> No General At All. </i>

Nan's head jerked up as her eyes widened. The words of the Temple, conveyed through the Sword of Hope, echoed in her mind once more. She could not tell if it was in reality, or just a memory. However, the words danced in her mind as if they were ghosts to claim it.

" ... no general at all..?" she whispered.

-----------------------------------------------

Questar quietly inched down the halls of the castle. The crickets chirped quietly, filling the night with their cries. It was late, almost morning. Questar knew he was supposed to be asleep within his room. However, he had found himself unable to sleep and decided to go find some food in the kitchen.

With his mind made up, he had waken Techno and the two of them stole through the night.

Questar glanced back at the mutate, who scampered quietly behind the prince. Techno's room was connected to Questar's. The mutate acted as Questar's maid so such access to Questar's room simplified matters greatly. Such actions were considered normal.

However, Questar's strange affinity for Techno was not normal. Questar insisted that Techno follow him everywhere, no matter where he was going. Such a bond ignited fits of outrage from Questar's father, who continued to find it more difficult to remove the mutate from his son's presence.

Questar's ears flipped back as bile seemed to rise in his chest. His father never approved of their companionship, except when it involved violence. Questar, himself, did not want to think of their relationship as anything but mutate and prince. However, he couldn't hide the fact that he seemed to rely upon the mutate for emotional support. There were nights when, after being plagued by a hideous nightmare, he would sneak in to Techno's room and curl up beside the mutate. The next morning, before anyone could walk in, Questar would return to his own room. He knew that if his father even suspected that his son had slept within the same room as the mutate, Techno would have been executed.

Questar shook his head, then glanced back down the hall. He hadn't meant to allow his mind to drift so far. He sighed and continued to walk, his footsteps light and quick. As he did, he passed the throne room. The doors were ajar, though Questar did not notice. Techno, however, had. With quick steps, Techno backed away from the opening and hid behind a statue.

" Questar," someone snarled. Questar stopped short and turned his head. He saw his father, Levit, standing in the middle of the doorway. " What are you doing up?" he demanded. Questar gulped, a sense of dread surging through him.

" Papa..!" Questar yelped.

" Your room is in the other direction," Levit growled, eyes narrowed. Questar felt his throat dry up.

" I know..," Questar responded. " I was going to get something to help me sleep..," Levit slammed his tail down.

" Did or did I NOT specifically tell you never to wander the halls at this time of night? For ANY reason?" Levit hissed.

" Well.... yes... but I was just...," Questar yelped.

" You were just NOTHING. You disobeyed me!" Levit snarled. Questar shrank back, afraid and confused. His father had never spoken to him like that before. " I demand STRICT obedience from those under me. And yet my own son disobeys me! Right before my own eyes!" Levit roared.

" I didn't mean to..," Questar muttered, looking at his feet shamefully. " You knew exactly what you were doing," Levit snapped, crossing his arms. " As always, you are attempting to test my authority!"

" I'm not..," Questar muttered. " I just wanted something to help me sleep..,"

" Lies," Levit hissed. Questar cringed.

" It's true!" Techno protested. His voice cracked in to a squeak. Realizing the bold words he had just used, Techno scampered to hide being Questar. He peered out over Questar's shoulder, fearful.

Levit's face twisted with rage.

" YOU!" he spat. " You're behind this!"

Techno shook his head violently, though he knew his protests would be ignored.

" Papa... it's nothing... I woke him up so he'd come with me to the kitchen... that's all..," Questar yelped, backing away from the towering king. " We'll go back to our rooms..," he offered, meekly.

Levit would not be pacified. He thundered forward, pointing his claw at Techno.

" You disgusting little brat! You've somehow corrupted my son with your anarchist mutate trash! Tray'tor SPY!" he bellowed. Techno whimpered and shook his head against the charges. " I'll have you EXECUTED!" Levit roared.

" PAPA! NO!" Questar cried. " It's not his fault-!"

" And YOU, Questar..," Levit hissed, glaring at his son. " You've become spoiled... running around at night without a care in the world while that mutate fills your head full of lies! I won't have it... you're getting as bad as your blasted mother..," he muttered. " Who's more important, Questar!? Your family or those damned other races!?" he charged.

Questar recoiled, caught off guard. He didn't see how protecting Techno linked him to the other races. He didn't understand why his father was so outrageously mad. His mind was brought back to the present when his father grabbed his arm, roughly, and yanked him close. Questar's stomach churned with fear and uncertainty as Levit's nose flared.

" Soon that witch you call a mother will have you parading around those Palman towns... working to help them in their ridiculous strifes! Building homes for their diseased children... fighting their battles against their OWN political problems! You'll be risking your life for them, even though they're not even worth a bit of sand on a beach! Your mother will involve you in her stupid little crusades to protect them!" he roared, shaking Questar violently. " That stupid fool can kill herself but I'll be DAMNED-,"

Questar, unable to take the harsh words any longer, yanked himself from Levit's grasp.

" MOMMA'S NOT STUPID!" Questar cried. He gave a startled cry as Levit suddenly slapped him across the face. The blow was so strong it sent Questar flying in to the wall. The wall shook and Questar could feel a rib or two snap within his body. He uttered a wail of pain and clutched his side. Techno uttered a shriek of horror and scampered over to the prince, his eyes wild with concern and fear.

Levit growled, a cruel smile of satisfaction on his face.

" Don't you EVER talk to me like that again, you filthy little brat!" Levit roared.

He regretted those words the second they came out of his mouth.

A screech of rage issued as Sunstar suddenly leaped at Levit from the doorway, her fangs bared. It didn't take much to alert a mother to her child's pain. It was a sense they possessed, allowing them to instantly know if their children are in danger or have been wounded. Levit had activated the sense and she was determined to make him regret it.

She slashed mercilessly at Levit, who cried out in surprise and tried to fend her off. The combined berserk sense and the aspect of surprise overwhelmed Levit entirely. Her claws sliced open his scales, causing blood to pour from his wounds. With a startled yowl, Levit tripped and fell to the ground. As he did, Sunstar scooped up her son and ran down the hall to Daystar's room. Techno followed closely, his movements quick. She reached in to the cradle, ignoring Daystar's loud wail as she woke from her sleep. With Questar in one arm and Daystar in another, she stormed back down the hall. She stopped in the doorway of the throne room, where Levit was forcing himself to his feet.

" If you ever... EVER... harm one of my children again, I swear... there won't be enough left of your mangled corpse to BURY," she spat. " If I even THINK you are... I WILL return and have your hide..," Sunstar snarled. Levit jerked, his eyes open wide.

" W... WILL return!?" Levit gasped. " W... where are you going!?"

" Away from YOU," Sunstar hissed. " Ever since you filled yourself with poison, you have treated me and my children as lowly as if we were slime..," she hissed. " I want to have a DECENT life again... and my children deserve one," she snapped. She whirled and left the throne room. She heard Levit screaming her name but she paid no mind. She dashed out of the castle, then stopped, panting. Techno appeared behind her, his eyes misty with tears and full of concern. Without a thought, Techno took the sobbing Questar from her arms and carried him, though it was obviously a struggle. Sunstar glanced at Techno, then nodded. She held her baby, Daystar, at a more comfortable position in her arms and began to hum a lullaby in an attempt to sooth the bawling child. Techno, himself, muttered to Questar.

Questar barely reacted, crying hysterically as blood oozed from the corner of his mouth.

Sunstar caressed her son's head, tossing off a Res with hopes of relieving the pain until he could get proper help. She glanced at Techno again and nodded. With quick footsteps, the four of them went down the street, through the gate, and in to the caves. Their shadows disappeared in to the darkness, as if they were a whisper in a soon-to-be-forgotten dream.

----------------------------------------------------------

Trrrosta stared in utter horror as the titanic beast of stone trudged forward. The ground cracked and trembled underneath its metal hooves as steam blew out of its nostrils. Its entire form was made of stone, runes carved in to its body to sustain the magical form. The horns reached in to the sky, sharp and deadly. Nestled in the middle of the beast's chest was a clear crystal gem. Inside the gem was the fleeting image of a shadow.

Trrrosta swallowed deeply. The shadow, he knew, must be Jaega's soul.

" That... that has to be Jaega's new form..," Trrrosta whispered.

" By the power of the gods..," Farsight sputtered, his eyes wide with horror.

Jaega continued along the ridge, his body forcing it to give way to him. He did not notice the two horrified Ancient Espers huddled upon the top of the ridge.

" A bull... why a bull?" Trrrosta wondered, his eyes wide.

" A beast of burden..," Farsight muttered. Trrrosta glanced at his long time friend.

" Hm?" he inquired.

" Tray'tor must be using the form as a constant reminder to Jaega that at this point and time... Jaega is but a beast of burden to him. A servant," Farsight drawled. Trrrosta wrinkled his nose.

" Oh... THAT is smart... enrage a powerful demigod..," Trrrosta sighed. Farsight did not respond. Jaega continued towards the castle, slowly.

As it passed under Trrrosta and Farsight, it came to a stop and glanced about, its massive horns jarring the sides. Farsight and Trrrosta held fast as the ridge trembled, then went still. Jaega's eyes flashed as his nostrils flared. Neither Ancient Esper dared to move as the monster scanned the area.

" Did he hear us?" Trrrosta dared to breathe. Farsight did not respond. At that moment, Jaega sucked in air to its magical lungs and let out an earth shattering bellow.

Trrrosta and Farsight slammed their paws over their ears as the ground shook. The snow collapsed in to the ridge as the rock nearly collapsed. After the roar ended, the ridge continued to echo. It was truly horrible.

" Just his roar could do us in..," Trrrosta gulped, his ears pressed back. " We have to do something quickly," he thought. He glanced around, in hopes of an idea.

His eyes settled upon a ledge, weakened by the roar. It was barely attached, crumbs of rock trickling to the ridge. Trrrosta's face lit up instantly.

" I got it..," Trrrosta whispered. He got on to his knees and quickly crawled towards the ledge. Farsight glanced at him, then the ledge. His face twisted with disgust as he realized Trrrosta's plan.

" Oh that's really heroic," Farsight spat, a sneer on his beak. Trrrosta shook his head.

" Sometimes, Farsight, it's better to use your head rather than make a name for yourself," he snorted. " Besides, I don't have to answer to you. I do, however, have to answer to everyone back home,"

Farsight's expression twisted from disgust to rage but he made no comment.

Trrrosta crawled towards the weak edge. He glanced at it, then at Jaega. Jaega glanced about, his stone eyes roving the area.

" Start moving, Jaega...," Trrrosta hissed, quietly. " I'm going to make sure no one else is hurt by you again!" Jaega uttered a snort and pawed the ground. Then, with a snap of his horns, he continued along the ridge towards the castle. He was totally unsuspecting of the trap Trrrosta intended to spring upon the beast.

Trrrosta felt every muscle tense as the beast continued farther along the ridge.

" He's a Palman... who wanted to play god..," he thought, bitterly. " The Palmans are always causing trouble... if not killing my parents, then killing themselves. In the end, they lose the very 'humanity' they claim makes them different than us," he grumbled. He glanced at Farsight, who had a set expression upon his face. " They say this humanity decides what is human and what is beast," he explained. Farsight made no response. Trrrosta glanced at Jaega, a smirk on his face. " Where's your humanity now, Jaega?"

Jaega continued to walk until, finally, he was under the ledge. Testosterone filled every pour of Trrrosta's body. With a yowl he leaped on to the ledge.

Trrrosta was not expecting the reaction that was to come.

The entire ledge rumbled in complaint due to the pressure and collapsed. However, as the barrage of rock and snow flooded downwards towards Jaega, it created a chain reaction. The entire ridge seemed to tremble and shatter. Trrrosta squealed and leaped aside as the ledge cracked farther inward, collapsing. It was as if he had taken a puzzle piece needed to keep the whole together. Trrrosta dashed away as the ground about him fell towards the ridge. Jaega looked up just in time to be buried beneath the onslaught of rock and snow.

The sound was deafening, as if the trumpets of heaven and drums of hell were waging war against each other. The noise seemed to continue for eternity. Within moments, the entire ridge filled with ice and rock. Jaega was buried underneath tons of stone, ice, and rubble. It was a natural tomb. Farther down, the castle was relatively untouched. However, the castle was not his duty. The army could deal with Tray'tor and any troops he may have stocked the castle with.

Trrrosta stumbled up from the snow, sputtering, and glanced back towards the ridge. His expression was incredulous, then turned to delight.

" YOKATTA!" he screamed, waving his fists. " WE DID IT!" he added, then hushed quickly. He covered his ears and cringed at how ridiculous he sounded. He glanced, warily, towards the castle. Then, he looked about for Farsight. " Farsight?" he called. " Farsight? We've won! We... we can go home!" he called.

" WE? WE are not going anywhere," a voice whispered. Trrrosta blinked and glanced over his shoulder.

As Trrrosta turned, he felt a searing pain. He let out a cry of pain and surprise as Farsight buried his dagger deep in to Trrrosta's back. The blade jut out of his chest, coated in blood. Trrrosta's eyes opened wide as blood poured from his wound and mouth. He collapsed to the ground, his body shaking as his life essence flowed like wine. His eyes began to cloud over.

Farsight looked over him, a grim look on his face. He glanced at his claws, Trrrosta's blood coating them with thick fluid.

" W-why..," Trrrosta whispered, his voice choked. Farsight stared at Trrrosta's body.

" You never should have let your guard down..," Farsight muttered, his voice oddly indifferent. " Who knows what the enemy may do,"

" N-no..," Trrrosta stuttered, shaking his head slowly. " N-no... ... why?" he choked. Tears appeared in his eyes, drifting down his gold cheeks to mingle with the blood from his mouth. His voice was tainted with hurt at such betrayal. The sound of it caused Farsight's mouth to clamp shut.

He could think of no excuse.

Trrrosta searched Farsight's face with his quickly fading eyes, as if searching for an answer. He found nothing but indifference. Trrrosta let out a choked sob, then closed his eyes. " Where... is your... humanity... Farsight?" he wheezed. He laid his head down on the snow and let out a sigh. Trrrosta did not move again.

Farsight stared at Trrrosta's lifeless body for a long time, then wiped his hands on Trrrosta's tunic, turned, and disappeared in to the snow.

----------------------------------------------------------------

A shadowed figure walked along the edge of a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. A massive temple reached for the sky, noble and proud.

The figure glanced up at the temple, then began climbing the steep stairs. The wind whipped at it, blowing the tattered cape in the wind. The figure continued, up until it reached the halfway point. It turned and touched a tile, which swung open to reveal a trap door. The door, cleverly put, allowed those who knew of its existence to skip the complicated and mind numbing maze within the temple.

The figure entered the temple. It walked, silently, about the passages. After what seemed to be an eternity, the figure arrived at a golden pedestal.

The figure lifted it's cloak and pulled out a gorgeous sword. It looked to be made of the finest laconian, an aura of sea blue dancing in the darkness. The figure placed the sword upon the gold alter.

With a tired sigh, the figure pulled back her cloak to reveal Sunstar. She smiled sadly at the sword, a flood of painful memories entering her mind.

She had, with a heavy heart, left Questar and Daystar at Bahum's castle. She knew they would be safe. She had asked Bahum to keep the children until he deemed it was safe for them to return to their father. They would be safer with them than they would be with her. She couldn't forgive Levit's attack upon Questar but she knew, in her heart, that he loved the children. She prayed that, in time, he would escape the shell of ice he had created.

However, she knew that she could not face her husband again. They had grown apart, despite what the ache in her soul told her. She didn't know where she would go, nor why she would be there. She merely knew she had to follow her heart.

She closed her eyes. Now that the sword was asleep, she had to find homes for the other armor made by the deceased hero of the Ancient Espers. The Armor had gone to Bahum, the Helmet to Arkan, and the Shield to her husband.

Sunstar glanced to the ceiling, tears filling her eyes. The Claws had been placed in a special temple made to honor Trrrosta and his sacrifice. She let out a strangled sob. She could not forgive herself for allowing the two to go upon the adventure. Trrrosta would not have died, then.

When Farsight had arrived by himself back at the city, there was utter despair. Farsight said that Trrrosta had died, sacrificing himself to seal the beast. The news had utterly crushed all the Ancient Espers of Algo.

No one was more hurt than Thunder. Thunder had closed his shop for weeks, refusing to see anyone. He did not eat anything until people came and forced food down his throat. His sorrow had been so great that he had lost the will to live.

With the aid of his friends, Thunder managed to regain a grip upon his emotions and he opened his shop. No one ever spoke of Trrrosta. Occasionally, Thunder broke in to tears at the anvil but no one paid it mind. Some things can never be healed.

Sunstar adjusted her cloak and let out a heavy sigh. She wiped her tears away, turned, and disappeared in to the darkness of the tunnels.

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