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Chapter 11

"Diagnostic scan complete. All systems nominal." The voice of the Daughter had a booming, metallic quality to it that set Shaedal's teeth on edge, but that might, beneath the screeching of it, be female. "Bio-Systems check complete. Massive drain on all available power supplies. Explain."

Be respectful, hatchling, or you shall regret the day your father set foot in Zema.

Shaedal scoffed. "The drain on the other Motavian systems, indeed, on all the systems in Algo, is the direct result of Wren and his servant, Demi. They are attempting to usurp control of Algo from it's rightful ruler. You, of course, Daughter. Your deactivation and the manipulations of the humans they so hate was simply part of their master plan."

"Then it is good you have reactivated me," the voice boomed from the audio-ports set into the walls. "Mankind cannot survive without my aid. I am already detecting anomalous readings from Parma."

Shaedal and his master had carefully rehearsed the fiction they had devised to dupe the Daughter AI into serving them. Shaedal smoothly responded. "Of course, Daughter. Parma has been annihilated." He hung his head in mock sadness.

"Annihilated?" Where Shaedal had expected horror, there was an emotionless, cold edge the Daughter's voice that he feared even more.

"Yes, Daughter. Annihilated." Without your aid, the orbit of the satellite Gaira, sabotaged by Wren, lost control of it's navigational systems. It's orbit gradually decayed until it crashed into the planet Parma, which it was orbiting. The planet was destroyed, along with all it's inhabitants and bio-systems. A few ships escaped the cataclysm, but were ruthlessly destroyed by Wren."

"This must be the reason I was reactivated, then. Where is Wren now?"

"Unreachable," Shaedal told her, feigning grief. "He has hidden himself away in the impregnable fortress of Zelan, and his toady, the Android called Demi, does his evil deeds for him. Doubtless he fears you, Daughter." A stabbing pain ran through Shaedal's chest, and he grunted. Then it passed.

Do not presume to improvise, Shaedal. I am the master, remember that.

"Then it is impossible for me to reach him. I have failed in my directives."

"No!" Shaedal cried. "I have thought of something! If you were to capture or destroy Demi, Wren would be forced to come out in the open. He cannot complete his malodorous task from within Zelan! If we were to take hold of Demi and her current companions, you could lure Wren into the open."

"I shall do as you have suggested. You are a very intelligent human, Shaedal. Perhaps you shall be of use to me when I forge a new empire from the ashes of Wren's insanity. Stay and serve me, Shaedal."

"I would be honored to stay, great Daughter. To help the true ruler of Algo reclaim the galaxy would be an honor above all others.

"I even," he added slyly, "know exactly where Demi can be found."

* * *

Several minutes later, the Daughter 'dismissed' Shaedal from her presence while she planned her attack. Shaedal wandered through the dark corridors of the Fortress until he found a room that might once have belonged to humans living in the Fortress and maintaining the prototype. He sat down on the lumpy, forgotten cot in the corner.

"The machine is crazed, master," he said acidly.

It shall accommodate our purposes. That is all that matters. And by the way, son of Zio, Shaedal could not remember the last time the voice had called him by his name, you cannot act.

"My name is Shaedal," he hissed slowly. "Shaedal. Zio is not my father."

Oh, but he is, Shaedal Zio's Son , the voice's quality at that was almost sing song, taunting Shaedal, he is. He was your father, and now you shall serve me as he served me. Well, and until death.

"No," Shaedal cried. "No! I shouldn't have done this! I was wrong," he mumbled. Rising from the cot, he slammed his fists against the wall, cold, unyielding steel. "He was my sire, not my father." A tight knot of the familiar pains appeared in his chest. He ignored them. "A father would have held me when I was afraid, been there for me when I was lonely or sad - and where was he? Damn you! I have no father!" Then the pain in his chest began to grow…

The screams went on for quite some time after that.

When it was over, Shaedal was sprawled on the cot, his clothes shredded and exposed skin cut from where he had torn at himself during the torture. Tears rolled down his face, and he could not stop them, didn't try. His body convulsed with helpless, uncontrollable sobs. "Forgive me," he whispered, "please, oh, God, forgive me."

I am a God, Shaedal. I shall forgive you.

Shaedal swallowed. "Thank you," he sobbed, "I won't stray again, I swear it."

I am your master, Shaedal, never forget that.

"No, master, no. Never."

* * *

Rune sprawled across the Landale's wing, the Motavian sun soaking through his robes and warming his flesh. One hand was thrown over his eyes, the other lay lightly atop his staff. Idly he wondered what time it was.

Carefully, shielding his eyes with on hand, he peered at the horizon.

And saw them.

They were flying, shooting across the ground at an incredible speed, several smaller shapes flying beside them. The small flyers were indistinguishable at that distance, but the larger seemed to be roughly teardrop shaped, with curved, fluted wings protruding from their sides.

Rune leapt to his feet, bringing his staff to the ready, seeking the proper center of mind to weave his spells. "Demi, hurry," he mumbled.

He recognized them, of course, though he had seen them only once before. They were the Vahal Fort's assault drones - small, quick, lightly armed AI fighters designed for crack assaults on installations. The Daughter had been producing them rather heavily when he and Chaz had been there, and they had apparently been used to destroy Plate System slightly earlier.

Rune gestured with his staff and a swirl of energy formed over the lead drone. He still couldn't make out any of the smaller figures, and that bothered him. Yellow lightning danced from the magical rift he created, tearing great rents in the drone's hull. Fire erupted from the flyer as it entered a tailspin, crashing into the plains.

A moment later Rune had a second spell prepared, and he cast it, weaving an anti energy field around the spaceport and Landale. A crackling blue and white sphere shimmered into place about the facility.

"Let's see your lasers get through that, " he grinned, already calling up another spell.

Then the smaller shapes disengaged from the drones and swept to the left, even as the drones came about and dove at the right side of the shield, attacking pincer-style from two sides.

* * *

Alys recognized the tearing pains in her chest, the same pains she had felt on the Landale, when exposed to the Black Energy Wave. "Demi!" she gasped, doubling over. "It's…"

"I know," Demi told her, unslinging her blaster and looking about warily. "Are you all right? I have to figure out where this is coming from."

"I'm fine," Alys told her, inching backwards. "I just have to get out of it's range."

"Alright," Demi said. "It must be residual traces of Zio's death. I didn't know they'd last this long. Zio was charged with the Black Energy - he was enormously powerful. There was bound to be some kind of residue left from when all that was released. The problem is, of course, that the residue, the echo, if you will, might just attract something nasty. We have to get out of here."

Alys yelled suddenly as something grabbed her shoulders, spun her about, and slammed her into the wall. Her head cracked sharply against it and as her vision cleared she found herself face to face with one of the demons.

This demon was female, and grinning insanely, the flash at the corners of her mouth torn backwards, awful slashes running almost to her ears, leaking blood. Her grip was strong, and her blackened, diseased nails dug into Alys' shoulders.

Alys writhed helplessly in the grip, but the demon had her arms pinned tightly to her sides, and had lifted her off the ground, unable to kick, struggle or draw her sword.

Demi swore, pointed her blaster and fired. The cone of force flashed from the gun to slam directly into the demon's back. The entity was slammed against Alys, pressing the girl painfully against the wall, and the demon's grip loosened to the point where Alys slid to the ground. Quickly, Alys linked one foot behind the demon's ankle and pushed against her shoulders, tripping the demon up. As the demon stumbled and fell, Alys leapt away -

- right into the Black Energy Wave once more. Alys convulsed helplessly, retching, and fell to the ground. She heard Demi gasp and the battering of the Energy Wave redoubled. There were several more of the muted slams signifying the use of Demi's blaster, and a sickening, crackling sound. From behind her came the familiar scream of the demons - a high pitched cackling ending in a gurgle that she did not want to dwell on. The next thing she knew, Demi was scooping her up and carrying her away. The last thing she saw of Nurvus was that every aperture on the computer seemed to be oozing slime like blood.

Once she and Demi were safely out of range of the Black Energy Wave, she set Alys down against the wall and knelt beside her.

"Are you all right?" she asked gravely. She waved her hand before Alys' face. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

Alys grinned wanly and brushed her hand aside. "I'm fine, Demi. Really."

"Just making sure. It was pretty bad back there," Demi rose, her eyes dancing about the corridor. She's worried, Alys realized.

"What happened?"

Demi shook her head. "Something I didn't think possible. It's proven one thing that made me skeptical - the Balance of the Universe can also be localized. The death of Zio tattered the Balance so badly in that one area that, combined with the global weakening, the Profound Darkness could come very close to manifesting itself physically in this plane. I never really believed such a thing was possible - for the Balance to be weakened to this extent throughout all Algo, the event Rune told you about must have been…cataclysmic - comparable to the Great Collapse. Even though the Profound Darkness couldn't bring itself into this world through that rift, it could assault us with gigantic amounts of the Black Energy Wave and that demon. That was the slime leaking from the computers - pure Black Energy."

"But it's over now, right? We can go do our scanning?"

"Uh, no," Demi said, clearing her throat. "It isn't over, actually. Nurvus hasn't just been perverted, it's been…warped, beyond all possibility. Nurvus is of no use to us at all. We have to seal it, or it'll flood the world with Black Energy. We have to go. That Black Energy you saw is going to continue seeping from the computers until it becomes a tide, filling Nurvus with it. And that kind of pure Black Energy would have the same effect on the world as it did on Alys Brangwin. We're in huge danger. Can you run?"

Alys nodded, though she wasn't really sure she could. "I won't slow you down, Demi," she told the Android earnestly.

And so they did.

The next minutes were a confused welter of images - they rushed through darkened corridors, into steel courtyards. She followed Demi vaulting over a railing onto a lower level and then -

"Light! " Alys gasped the word, hurling herself into the sand. Demi collapsed beside her, panting.

"We're not safe until we're back in the Landale," she said. "Come on!" Turning, Demi directed her blaster at the top of the doorway. There was a thud, the cone of force, and the doorway collapsed. "It's not perfect, but it'll have to do."

* * *

"What is that, Demi?" Alys placed on hand on her brow to shield her eyes, then pointed towards the spaceport. A crackling dome of energy was barely visible in the distance.

Demi peered into the distance, and her eyes seemed to glaze and dilate rapidly. Then she gasped. "That is a firefight, Alys, and Rune is in danger! We've got to hurry!"

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