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Prologue to Chapter 4


The silent body drifted through space and through time on it's allotted path, neither slowing nor deviating. Unseen, unheard, it flew through the cosmos, stars and planets drifting by, their passage noted, as had been done since the dawn of time.

Rykros and it's strange inhabitants had never looked back upon their passages, for their travels would always continue, unabated, as long as their Purpose existed. But now, the strange beings did look back at what they had left.

The Silence Temple, which existed to Remind, began to glisten, energy pulsing at it's core. The beings upon Rykros knew what was to come. And each, in turn, they knelt down and paid homage to the great deeds they had accomplished.

For the first time in a hundred thousand millennia, Rykros did deviate, it's passage slowing almost to a halt. The light grew brighter, brighter then a thousand suns. And then it erupted.

Rykros exploded.

Chapter 1

The blade flashed sharply through the air, it's passage clear all the way to it's target. Alys grinned - she had won. Suddenly, with a hiss, her opponent's blade tore through the air and knocked hers aside. She cursed as she was thrown off balance, her left side exposed.

"I win," Chaz Ashley grinned, tapping her side lightly with the wooden sword. "Nice fight, Alys."

Alys smiled, then sighed, brushing a strand of her sandy blonde hair out of her eyes and pushing it back, tucking it behind one of her long, slightly tufted ears. "Right, dad," she smirked. "No need to rub it in, okay?"

"Me? Never," Chaz said with worlds of feigned meekness. "I'm the very soul of humility. He sniffed the air. "Smells like dinner's ready. Shall we?"

Alys grinned at her father. At sixteen, Alys was as tall as her mother and only slightly shorter then her father. Her body was well muscled, both beautiful and strong. Her hands, it seemed sometimes, were made to hold a sword.

Alys looked affectionately at her father. Despite his advancing years - his light, sandy hair was streaked with gray - he was still widely recognized not only as the man who had saved the world, but also as the finest hunter who had every lived.

With, of course, the possible exception of his daughter's namesake. Mentioning Alys Brangwin could still bring tears to his eyes. In the years after the Redemption, as the cataclysmic struggle with the Profound Darkness was becoming known, Chaz would often lament the early death of his mentor. "She died in a bed," he would say. "She wouldn't have wanted it that way."

Inside the farmhouse it was warm and comfortable. "Chaz?" The sweet voice of Alys' mother called from the kitchen. "Is that you?" A sizzle and a crash followed. "Oh! Chaz, come in her and help me clean this up."

Shrugging resignedly, Chaz patted his daughter on the shoulder and went into the kitchen. Alys heard him say "Rika, you're still not very good at this."

* * *

Later, at the dinner table, Alys brought up a subject that she had been thinking of broaching for quite some time.

"Mom, dad," she began carefully. "I was thinking I would head into Aiedo tomorrow and go the, ah, Hunter's Guild. Maybe I could apply for a job."

Rika's ears perked, a nervous habit she had seemed to adopt from watching kittens. Though Alys shared her father's human appearance, her long, pointed ears were definitely those of her mother. "Alys," Rika began, "we've talked about this."

"Mom, you were only a year old when you started adventuring."

Chaz raised one hand to cover up a chuckle. Rika withered him with a glance. "Dear, that's different," she said gently. "You know that. I didn't have a choice."

"That's right, Alys," Chaz said, still smiling. "We needed your mother to help us rescue Demi, and then…" It was obvious he was ready to lapse into the story of his youth.

"I know, dad, I know. But weren't you only nine when you were apprenticed to Alys Brangwin?" She almost regretted that comment, as a wistful look entered her father's eyes. She plowed on anyway. "And don't tell me 'that's different, Alys' because if a nine year old kid can survive the training, I can too. Besides," she went on, "I was trained by two of the greatest heroes who ever lived."

Flattery could almost always be counted on to win her parents over. Chaz sighed and looked at his wife, who nodded, slowly, once. "Fine, Alys," Rika acquiesced.

"You can take Lamaar and go in the morning," Chaz said. "I'll give you some money and a sword, and I think I have some armor lying around."

"Thank you!" Alys leapt up and embraced her parents. "You won't regret this!" Laughing, she ran up the stairs to start packing.

"Somehow," Chaz said, "I think I will."

Chapter 2

"Goodbye, mom," Alys leaned out of the saddle to kiss her mother's forehead. "See you in three days." Sitting straight in Lamaar's saddle, she looked at her father. He opened his mouth to speak. "I promise I'll be careful, dad."

"That's not what I had in mind, but do that, yes." He drew from his cloak a wrapped bundle and handed it to his daughter. "Open this when you get to Aiedo, Alys. I don't think I want to see it just now."

Alys nodded solemnly, tightly clutching the small, wrapped bundle in one hand. "Goodbye, dad. I'll be back in three days - thereabouts, at any rate."

"Take your time, Alys. I know this is exciting for you."

Rika clasped her daughter's free hand tightly. "Now, you have the money?" Alys nodded. "And the sword and the chain mail under your clothes? Good. You know where the house in the city is? Wonderful. Nobody's lived there in a while, but we hired someone in Aiedo to clean it for us now and again. You can stay there. Did your father give you the map of the city?" She paused. "Oh, my darling," she sighed. "I'm going to miss you so much."

"I'll be fine, mom, but I really have to go if I want to be in Aiedo by nightfall. Goodbye!" Quickly, so as to avoid longer farewells, she wheeled the roan stallion, Lamaar, and set off in the direction of Aiedo.

* * *

Shaedal pushed aside an idle cobweb that caught him in the face. The light from the candle danced in the breeze wafting from the mouth of the tunnel. Dust caked the ground and rodents and insects scrambled into darkened corners where the light could not find them. As always, Shaedal was guided by the voice, but it was stronger now, it's compulsions greater, then they had ever been before.

Forward, young one, forward. It is near, yes, very near.

Shaedal had stopped responding to the voice long ago. It was as if three voices spoke in unison within his mind - each subtly different from the first.

Shaedal had started hearing the voice when he was nine. He had grown up in Mile, bastard son of a woman of some importance in the town. The voice had told him things to do - strange things, bad things. But he was never caught doing them, and was never blamed. A love of violence and mischief blossomed in the boy, and he grew into a dark, dangerous man. He had left Mile at twenty three, following directions given to him by the voice. His master.

The tunnel was built into a mountain range out in the middle of nowhere, carefully hidden as if only Shaedal was meant to find it. It was long, winding downwards into the bowels of the mountain, and filled with an almost palpable evil.

With one strong arm, Shaedal gripped the tunnel wall tightly. This stretch of the tunnel was quite steep, and a fall would be enormously painful. Carefully, he inched his way along the tunnel. After a time, the tunnel curved to the left, and Shaedal followed it into a large, unnatural cavern.

Empty seats filled the gigantic room, each seemingly carved from the floor of the cavern. At the end of the tunnel was an altar.

Driven into the stone from which the altar was carved was a sword, but like none other Shaedal had ever seen. The blade was of a black steel, and seemed, impossibly, to glow with darkness. The hilt was wooden, charred and blackened as if in a furnace.

The altar itself was a simple stone block, carved with images. Most prominently displayed, several times, were two swords crossed. The person holding either of the swords varied from picture to picture, but one of the swords was very definitely the sword driven almost hilt-deep into the rock.

Running his hands through his blue black hair, Shaedal approached the altar. He faced it for several moments, the voice silent. Then, he sensed a presence in the room with him. Turning, he could see that the chairs had filled.

Shadowy figures, varying from human to demonic, sat in those seats, their eyes and attention focused totally on Shaedal. The voice rang through his head like a discordant bell.

Netrdeon. Netrdeon. Take it, Shaedal. My time has come again! For years, I have waited, biding my time for the moment when the balance would weaken, and now my time has come! Take the nightblade, Shaedal. Claim Netrdeon!

Reaching out, not knowing why, Shaedal placed his palm tentatively upon the hilt of the sword driven into the altar. It was warm, as if somewhere within it, fires still raged. Slowly, finger by finger, he closed his fist about the sword.

Yes! The voice within his mind exulted. Yes! With the death of most hated Rykros, I shall live again! Son of Zio, you have fulfilled your destiny!

Chapter 3

The sudden descent of a harsh, slashing rain had slowed Alys' progress considerably, and she was unable to reach Aiedo before nightfall. She camped in the forest butting up against the mountain range.

Around midnight, she was awoken. Sitting up and gripping the hilt of her nearby sword, she looked about herself nervously, just in time to see Lamaar run off.

The rain had stopped, but the ground was muddy and Alys slipped several times before she had crossed the clearing to where she had seen Lamaar disappear. The horse's tracks were clearly visible, and Alys was watching the ground - making it impossible for her to miss the three sets of prints crossing those of her horse.

Alys immediately dropped to one knee, her sword coming free of her scabbard with a steely hiss. Looking around, she caught a glimpse of a brief, furtive movement. A small figure was moving about in the trees.

Alys didn't quite trust herself to follow the retreating figure - whoever it was might not have anything to do with her, and besides, mud wasn't the easiest thing in the world to move quietly in. She stayed half crouched until the figure vanished. Quickly she rose and began following Lamaar again.

"-and you weren't supposed to kill the horse!" A male voice. Alys immediately dropped to a crouch once more.

"A minor oversight," a second voice responded. This voice was much deeper and resonant. Glancing around, Alys saw the speakers.

Both were draped in shadow, but a few physical features could be seen through the trees. One was merely tall - his body was slender and he was carrying a walking stick or staff of some sort. The other was enormous, and seemed to be in full armor.

A twig snapped behind her and even as she began to turn, a screech, so loud it was almost inaudible, filled her ears. Pain welled up between her temples and the world went dark.

* * *

"Oh, so you're awake. About time. Your entire family is slow, you know that?"

Alys sat up slowly, rubbing her forehead with one hand, trying to clear her blurred vision. Finally, her eyes cleared and she looked around.

The man who had spoken was seated in a chair not far from the bed where Alys lay. He was, or at least he appeared to be, the tall, slender man from the woods. Long, blue hair was tied back in a simple braid, and he cradled a staff across his lap. It seemed to Alys as if she should know this man.

The room itself was pervaded with a subdued hum. The walls were made of steel and a doorway similar to ones Alys had seen on her one trip to Nurvus was set in the wall. Her sword, pack, and the forgotten wrapped bundle her father had given her were tossed negligently at the tall man's feet.

"Who are you?" Alys tried to sound bold, but faced with real danger she couldn't keep a quiver out of her voice.

The man laughed. His voice was like a bell. His face, when he smiled, had an impish, boyish quality Alys almost liked. "My name is Rune, but some call me Lutz. Others still call me 'pig' or 'conceited'." He smiled.

Alys scoffed. "Rune? Rune Walsh?" When the man nodded, Alys threw back her head and laughed. "Very funny. Rune was older then my father when they fought the Profound Darkness. You're younger then my father. Rune." She laughed again.

Rune shrugged absently. "I don't care one way or the other whether or not you believe me, child. It's not all that important." Alys didn't respond. "Come on, then," he said. "You can't stay in here forever."

Alys rose and strapped on her sword. Picking up the bundle, she stuffed it in her belt. At some point during her unconsciousness, her chain mail had been removed. She didn't miss it all that much. Suddenly, the floor lurched beneath her feet and she staggered, giving a small cry. The floor leveled again after a moment.

"Where exactly are we? Why have you kidnapped me?"

"Oh, that. Yeah, sorry we knocked you out like that, but there were enemies nearby and we wanted to make sure you didn't alert them by putting up a fuss."

"Who's 'we'?"

Rune gestured towards the doorway. "You're about to find out."

Apprehensively, drawing her sword, Alys stepped towards the door. It opened as she came close, and hissed eerily. Beyond was an oval room, occupied by a viewscreen showing Motavian landscape flashing past. Seated at the viewscreen were the other two figures from the night before. They swiveled about as she entered.

Alys gasped. Both of the beings seemed human, but their face were nightmarishly framed with steel protrusions. Their bodies were covered with what at first appeared to be armor, but a second glance revealed that it was metal fused to their skin.

"Alys," Rune said with mock cordiality, "meet Wren, and Demi."

Chapter 4

Shaedal smiled, his gaze drifting from the plateau upon which he stood across the ripe farmland. His gaze settled upon a farmhouse, where, just that morning, two parents had said goodbye to their greatest pride. His hand fell to the sword at his side - the nightblade, Netrdeon. Power pulsed beneath his fist and he drew the blade out of the plain leather sheath at his belt.

Drawing it, he felt the power of his new master, his father's master, course along his arms and into his body. He gripped the hilt two handed and raised it above his head, focusing his powers at the building below.

* * *

Rune sagged suddenly, his fingers clutching at the door frame. He would have fallen had not a surprised Alys caught him in her arms.

"Wren," he gasped, "hurry!"

Then Alys could feel it - a nauseating twist in the bottom of her stomach. She felt dizzy - which was not helped when the floor beneath her banked suddenly, throwing her off balance. Both her and the limp Rune fell to the floor.

"Wren!" Alys heard a female voice - Demi's, she decided - say. "Be careful!"

Two strong hands helped Alys to her feet. She looked down and saw the tiny, beautiful Android, Demi, holding her up. Quickly, the control Android helped her to a chair and strapped her in. Alys watched dazedly as she did the same to Rune, carrying him like a child.

Then, suddenly, out of a need to say something to the woman, Alys grabbed her arm. "Thank you," she whispered, fighting down a wave of nausea.

* * *
Son of Zio. The words felt right echoing in Shaedal's mind. Product of the greatest evil wizard to ever live. He hadn't known of his parentage - it had never been of pressing importance in his life.

The power had built enormously, now, and he could fell the excess literally flowing out of his body. Nearby plants withered and died.

"Now," Shaedal hissed, twirling the blade so it's point was aimed directly at the farm house, "you will pay, Chaz Ashley."

A sudden screaming filled the air and a bolt of pure energy destroyed the ground next to Shaedal. A shockwave struck him and he was thrown to the ground. Looking upwards, Shaedal saw, hovering above him, the enormous form of…what?

Gigantic, steel wings extended from it's sides, angled backwards, and two more just above them, pointed towards a tapering nose. Prominently displayed across the bottom of those wings, in red, was a single word.


Shaedal felt the power he had focused in Netrdeon dissipate harmlessly. He swore, rising to his feet as a doorway in the side of the steel bird slid open. A figure appeared, and jumped from it, dropping the long distance to the ground and landing in a graceful crouch.

"You're tampering with things you don't begin to understand," Rune said darkly. "You have no business with these people. You have no business dealing with the powers you're dealing with. Do you even comprehend what is controlling you? The Profound Darkness, Shaedal. Did you know? It'll devour you from the inside, until there's nothing left. As much as I would like that, slime, I'd much rather you gave me the weapon to deal with. Hand it over boy, or I'll do something you'll regret."

Shaedal gathered the force quickly, charged the blade with it, and released it at Rune. Pure night erupted from the point of the sword and wrapped around the wizard. The man's back arched and he screamed.

* * *

"Help him!" Alys was frantic. "That man's going to kill him!"

"I am trying," Wren said, the first words she had spoken to Alys. "It appears that the presence of the Black Energy Wave is jamming our weapons array. I am attempting to compensate."

Alys gave a cry of frustration and turned, looking out the doorway. Therefore, she was just in time to see Rune drop to the ground and Shaedal point the sword at the Landale.

"Watch out!"

The Landale rocked and pitched erratically as the black wave slammed into it, oozing all around one wing. It lurched, suddenly, and Alys was favored with another glimpse of Shaedal, once again pointing the sword, but this time at the farm house - her home.

Alys acted on instincts she didn't know she had. As the Landale lurched once more, the side upon which the door was pointed downwards. Alys curled and sprang out of the shuttle.

She landed relatively easily, the way her father and mother had taught her, her hand moving to draw out her sword, but her fingers found the wrapped package instead. One hand slipped of it's own volition within the cover - she felt metal. She pulled the package free, tearing off the cloth, and the slasher sung as she hurled it at Shaedal.

The bright metal glistened in the moonlight as it flipped end over end. One slashing blade struck and buried itself in Shaedal's forearm. With a scream, the dark haired man tore the weapon free, Netrdeon dropping from his grasp. Blood fountained from the long, wide wound, staining his black tunic even darker.

Alys drew her sword and swung an overhand blow at Shaedal's head. He parried clumsily, and the force of Alys' blow drove him backwards. He held Netrdeon awkwardly, one-handed, leaving him exposed in a hundred different places. He made a slow thrust that Alys deftly knocked aside, following up with a quick stab at the man's chest. Shaedal stumbled backwards, Alys' sword pricking his chest.

Then Alys felt the odd knot form in her stomach again and she hesitated for a second. Shaedal pointed his black sword and muttered a word. Blue light suffused Alys and numbing cold encompassed her. She fell to her knees, gasping as Shaedal's spell took affect.

Almost contemptuously, Shaedal picked up the slasher and flicked it at Alys. It buried herself in the ground next to her. Smirking, her raised his sword to strike her down.

"Alys!" The woman recognized Demi's voice from earlier. Shaedal looked upwards for a moment, and Alys hurled herself against him, knocking him away. He fell in a roll and came up with his sword held in his good hand. He swore, backing away from Alys.

"This is not over," he declared, then made a strange gesture with his good hand. An odd smell, like sulfur, filled the area, and Shaedal blinked out of existence.

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