Chapter 14 and Epilogue
The Vahal Fortress suddenly went dark.
"Calm down," Rune said placatingly. Light flickered, then grew into a flame, dancing atop the Wizard's staff. "Demi's shut down the Fortress, that's all. Emergency power should kick in…" Dim red lights came on, suddenly, lighting up the hallway. "Now." S
uddenly, he gasped. "God! I didn't realize it was so close!" Grabbing Alys' arm, he began running down the corridor.
"What? What didn't you realize?" Alys almost unconsciously tried to slow down, resisting Rune's pull.
"Shaedal! He's about to release the Profound Darkness! Come on!"
Alys gaped, tore her arm free of Rune's grip, and began to run, quickly outdistancing her companion, until she came to a Y-junction. "Which way?"
"Right," Rune commanded, sprinting past. "Hurry! No, wait." He slowed to a walk. "Be careful. He's right ahead of us."
The hallway opened up into a large, circular room, with passages leading from it in all directions. It practically seethed with the Black Energy Wave. Alys felt the twist form in her stomach, but it went no farther. She remembered the Rune had said Elsydeon would render them invulnerable to the Wave. Rune crouched at the doorway, pulling Alys down beside him.
"I'm going in," he whispered to her. "You stay her, and don't interfere , no matter what. If you get in the way, I'll hesitate, and that'll give Shaedal all the time he needs."
As if on queue, Shaedal emerged from one of the darkened corridors, Netrdeon held naked in his hand, casting a pale yellow light. In the light, the young man looked distinctly jaundiced. He didn't seem to see Rune and Alys, crouched in the darkness of the corridor.
In the light, Alys could clearly see the altar Rune had spoken of, set against one of the walls. It was created from some material Alys didn't recognize, but a miasma of hatred and malignancy hung about it.
Shaedal was nodding to himself, and muttering, as if talking to someone beside him. He was clad in strange black armor and a billowing cloak. The armor had high, ornate shoulder plates and an intricate clasp about his throat. A silky shirt covered his chest but left his arms bare, and the shirt was tied at the waist with a red sash. He wore black hose and boots. His arm was bound in a blood red bandage. Alys grinned maliciously at that, idly fingering the slasher slid into her belt.
"Stay here," Rune said once more, before stepping out of the corridor and into the light of the Darkness.
"Black's your color, Shaedal," he said. The young man twirled, raising Netrdeon. Never glancing at Elsydeon, Rune tightened his grip on his staff.
"Lutz! I won't fall easily," Shaedal sneered, making slow circles in the air with the point of his sword. He advanced slowly, circling Rune.
"Would you believe they all say that? And call me Rune."
"Don't toy with me," Shaedal said warningly.
"I'm not," Rune replied with a lighthearted grin. "Rune is my name. Lutz is my title, and frankly, I prefer my name. After all, if I ran around calling you 'illegitimate worm', it would start to grate on you after a while, don't you think?"
Shaedal snarled and charged Rune, Netrdeon aimed at his chest. Rune made a casual, dismissive gesture with his staff, knocking the sword aside and quickly sidestepping Shaedal's charge.
"You need training," he noted dryly to Shaedal.
"Stop toying with me!" Shaedal gripped Netrdeon one hand, his other weaving a pattern in the air. For a moment, Alys saw a blue aura surround Rune, but Rune muttered a word and the aura shuddered, then dissipated.
"Clumsy, Shaedal, very clumsy. I'd let you try again, though, if you begged."
Alys felt Shaedal gathering the Black Energy Wave within Netrdeon, charging his sword with the awful power. Rune paused, for a moment, then drew Elsydeon from it's sheath, dropping his staff. The Wizard's face took on a slightly sad look as he lifted Elsydeon and hurled it away from him, just as the night black energy erupted from Netrdeon.
"Die! " Shaedal's voice was a hoarse scream as his blast wrapped around Rune's body, curling about him in a sadistic embrace until nothing of Rune was visible. Then, gasping, Shaedal ended it, the energy dissolving into a sticky slime about the inert body of the Wizard. Rune didn't even seem to be breathing.
Those few seconds so entranced Alys that she hadn't followed Elsydeon's flight - until the hilt struck her knee. She gave a small gasp, then let her hand rest on the blade for a moment, feeling the unnatural warmth within it. Shaedal, meanwhile, had turned and was approaching the place he knew Elsydeon had come down.
Rising, Alys gripped the blade with one hand. With the other, she slid the slasher from her belt. "Strike true," she murmured, and stepped out of the corridor, throwing Alys Brangwin's last weapon.
Shaedal hurled himself to the side as the slasher cut though the air near his head. The blades of the slasher clipped Netrdeon, knocking the sword from his grasp. It skittered across the floor away from him.
The blades of the slasher hummed and it twirled, it's arc slowly bringing it around and back to Alys' hand. She caught it with ease. Elsydeon in one hand, slasher in the other, she stood in the doorway.
Shaedal scrambled backwards, his hand finding Netrdeon and he rose, gripping the sword in front of him. "You again," he snarled. "What do you intend to do with that, little girl?"
Silently, Alys raised the blade and approached.
* * *
It was strong now, gaining in power every second, it's path through the universe unhindered. The massive shockwave neared the end of it's journey, when destiny would be determined, once and for all.
* * *
Sacred sword clanged against sacred sword, sending a shock of unearthly cold up Alys' arm and into her body. She stiffened and stepped back, giving ground to Shaedal. In her hands, Elsydeon was nothing but a sword, like any other, but Netrdeon was more - every parry she made was painful, every thrust she made was somehow knocked aside by Shaedal's clumsy swordsmanship.
She had seen immediately that Shaedal had no real skill with weapons. Though with his tight, muscular build and dexterity, he had potential, but his style was clumsy - more posing then anything else. Yet somehow, Alys found herself hard pressed to parry his blows, found it almost impossible to attack herself. Slowly, she was being forced backwards.
Alys parried another of Shaedal's blows, and the swords locked, each trying to hurl the other away. Trying desperately to ignore the cold spikes shooting down her arms, Alys leaned forward and quite deliberately spit in Shaedal's eye.
Shaedal took several slow steps backwards, rubbing at his face. His gaze locked with Alys and he snarled, then made an obvious feint. Despite herself, that clumsy deception drew Alys in and she moved to parry, then Shaedal snapped the blade backwards and stabbed at her chest - an attack she had no hope of stopping.
She led a line of men and women and children the stretched from horizon to horizon, and where her steps fell the broken land through which they walked became whole again. The woman held herself tall and strong, but Alys was shocked by how young she was. Then, for a moment, the woman's gaze locked with Alys' and she nodded once, as if to say, I am with you.
He knelt amidst the wreckage of a great steel beast, strewn with wreckage and bodies. Tears ran down his face, mingling with dried blood, and in his hands he cradled a body, clutching it to his chest and screaming out his anger. Then, slowly, he lay the body on the ground, and looked into Alys' eyes. He raised his fist above his head, as if to say, I am with you.
A man and a woman.
They were lost in a maze, separated by walls that put them another world apart from each other. They struggled to become closer together, wandering endlessly calling each other's name. Then they each stopped, slowly, and suddenly each held a sword, which they raised in a salute as if to say, We are with you.
But something was missing, something integral to that great puzzle, and without it, Alys hovered between total power and absolute failure.
* * *
Boy, you're a young one to be breaking into peoples houses, aren't you? Chaz, huh? Is that your name? Well, my name's Alys. Any family, Chaz? Damn. Look, why don't you sit down here and I'll give you some of this to eat. How does that sound?
No, Chaz! Tighten your swing and don't lock your elbows. Stay flexible.
From this day forward, you are a full-fledged partner.
Someone keeping information from me is the sixth most dangerous thing in this world.
We'd be glad to have you along.
You blabbing old fart! Do you tell every idiot who comes in her my measurements?
So this is Alshline.
What a strange old man.
Chaz, do you understand?
You must carry on the will of Seed.
Can you stop the transmission of power to Nurvus?
Chaz, be careful!
An honorable adult…
An honorable adult…
Oh, Alys. Why?
It was as it was meant to be, Chaz. You have to understand that.
You must, Chaz. Are you with us?
You have to ask?
Thank you, Chaz. That's our power, never forget that. In our choice lies our strength, Chaz. I have to go…
Don't leave me.
Oh, Chaz! You always did wear your heart on your sleeve, didn't you? I think that's what I liked best about you…Me, with the chip on my shoulder. You were the best thing in my life, Chaz, and I will never leave you, really. You have to forgive yourself. It wasn't your fault. Goodbye, Chaz, goodbye. You have to guide someone too, you know.
* * *
"Alys!" Chaz sat up, flinging the coverlet off the bed and rising, holding his head in his hands. Beside him, Rika stirred. Gently, he reached down and touched his wife's silken hair. "Go to sleep, Rika," he whispered softly. "I'm fine."
Chaz rose slowly and walked across his cabin to the thick glass window, taking up an entire wall of this room on Zelan. Below him, Motavia spread, panoramic. And somehow, he knew, everything was about to be decided.
"Alys," he whispered, "Alys, I am with you."
* * *
Elsydeon leapt in Alys' hands, moving so fast it appeared to be in two places at once. The blade sung as it knocked Netrdeon aside.
Shaedal screamed, but Alys hardly noticed it, as the events of more then a thousand years blended together, and for a moment she felt as if all the power of the heroes of the ages had been concentrated within her.
In her hands, Elsydeon shone like a tongue of flame, as the power of the sword and the power of Alys were bonded in the most horrible kind of synergy. Energy flowed through Alys and into Elsydeon, and energy flowed from Elsydeon into Alys.
Shaedal gave ground as Alys straightened, clutching the glowing blade in her hands. She thrust, and Shaedal barely knocked the sword aside, but even so, he cried out, clutching at his arm, and Alys saw the bandage become redder as the wound reopened. She felt him gather in the Black Energy Wave, but not really knowing how, she reached out and ruthlessly crushed the power building within he opponent.
The moment slowed in Alys' mind to a crawl. Shaedal, staggered by the eradication of his attack, stumbled backwards and made another clumsy thrust. It was a small mistake, really, but one Alys had been trained to recognize.
He locked his elbows.
Alys didn't parry, she simply sidestepped the blade, and with a quick thrust, slid Elsydeon into Shaedal's ribs, knowing that he was committed to his attack and wouldn't be able change the course of Netrdeon in time.
Time leapt into motion again.
Shaedal didn't scream as the sword pierced his body and stilled his heart. Netrdeon dropped from his hands and fell with a clatter to the ground, and he slid limply off the blade. Alys slowly lowered Elsydeon, and knelt beside Shaedal.
"I didn't want to do this…" Her voice trailed off as Shaedal's eyes turned slowly and regarded her. A trickle of blood ran out of the corner of his mouth.
"Thank you," he whispered.
And then Shaedal was gone.
Alys whirled, raising Elsydeon to meet the new threat. All she saw was a slim woman in red emerging from one of the corridors. She had brownish-red hair that fell to the small of her back, and she carried herself with an easy, self-assured grace that bordered on arrogance.
"'Nice kill'?" Alys mimicked this new arrival, disbelieving. "He's dead…I don't take any pleasure in how clean the thrust was."
The woman regarded her with clear blue eyes. "You've come a long way, Alys. I'm proud of you."
"Just who are you?" Alys slowly began trying to maneuver around to where she could reach Netrdeon, or, failing that, protect the still inert form of Rune. "What do you mean, 'you're proud of me'?"
"Rune thinks he's smarter then he actually is, sometimes. He was completely right when he told you that the souls of the Darkness' servants were tied to Netrdeon. He didn't, however, realize, that the same was true for Elsydeon, just in a different way."
Alys Ashley paled. "Oh, Gods," she murmured.
The woman grinned a lopsided, friendly grin. "It's not over yet," she told Alys. "You still have to destroy the Profound Darkness."
"Why? It's sealed up, right?"
"Yes, but in twenty years, or fifty, or a hundred, it'll have enough strength to try and break free again. The only way to restore the Balance so that this can never happen again is to shift it in the other direction. You must destroy the Profound Darkness."
"How? Am I supposed to fight it?"
"No," the woman shook her head. "You'd lose. You have to open the portal."
Alys gaped at the woman. "Open it? I thought…"
"Trust me. Pick up Netrdeon, carefully, and make sure you have a tight grip on Elsydeon. Netrdeon may attack you."
Gingerly, Alys bent and picked up the nightblade, holding it out in front of her body. For a moment, she felt something…immense assail her, but then it was forced backwards. She seemed to hear an anguished howl coming from a long way off.
"Now," the woman continued, "slide Netrdeon into the slot on the altar." When Alys had complied, the woman turned and began to walk away. "I have to go now," she said over her shoulder. "In a few moments, the portal will begin to open and the Profound Darkness will try to emerge. When you get the signal, strike Netrdeon with Elsydeon to destroy it. You'll snap the portal shut with the Profound Darkness half-way through. It'll be destroyed." As she approached the tunnel, her image began to grow indistinct. "Good luck, Alys,"
"Wait!" Alys yelled. "What signal?"
"You'll know," the woman said with a trace of amusement in her voice. "You'll know." And then she vanished into darkness and was gone.
A sudden, awful presence filled the room, a presence forged of all that was dark and evil in the world. On the ground, Rune groaned and thrashed from side to side.
"Rune! Hang on," Alys said. "I have a feeling it's going to get a lot worse."
Do not do this.
I can give you whatever you want…anything…money…power…wealth. Free me!
"Never," Alys hissed.
I can erase her. I can destroy her memories. The name will be yours, and yours alone, Alys Ashley. You need never live in her shadow again.
"I could do worse things in life," Alys said, grinning in spite of herself.
You shall burn forever in my fires, impudent child!
A faint, yellow light blossomed on the wall in front of the altar, then erupted outwards into a swirling mass of energy, assailing her with evil and darkness. Behind her, Rune screamed. From a long way off, Alys heard a strange, booming sound, growing closer and louder with every passing moment, until it roared in Alys' ears. Slowly, she drew back Elsydeon.
The shockwave struck.
Rika Ashley died today.
That makes two of us.
Her death followed exactly a month after that of her husband, Chaz, and in the same way - peaceful, and in her sleep, if that makes any difference.
It doesn't to me.
Almost as bad, it follows not half a year after the wedding of her daughter, Alys, to Maztim of Termi. I understand Alys is pregnant, and I feel some grief in that I will not be the one to tell the stories of her children.
Rika's death closes a chapter in the history of Algo, one I am almost sorry to see pass. With her dies almost the last vestiges of pre-collapse culture, a culture we will never fully understand.
Under the supervision of the re-programmed Daughter2, the rest of Dezolis' systems have been fully deactivated, and so far there have been no adverse side-effects. It seems that the last traces of seismic distress Dezolis and Motavia have experienced from the destruction of Rykros have finally passed. It looks like I'm leaving behind a very boring world.
Speaking of which, I have at last confirmed my Chosen before the Council of Espers, and it caused quite a scandal among the more conservative members. However, in time, I think they will thank me, as Kyra Tierney has the potential to be the most skilled, brave, clever and tenacious Lutz in the history of Algo.
And so I close the book on the Fifth Generation Lutz, as I will descend into Lutz's Room beneath the mansion, and there I shall pass on my memories and experiences to the young and strong. I myself shall rise to a higher plane, and leave this sad, redeemed world behind me.
Maybe Alys will forgive me, and meet me when I get there.
Or maybe, all I really ever needed to do, was forgive myself.
Excerpted from -
The Journals of Most Reverent Lutz
Volume One, Generations 1-6
The Great Collapse to The Great Rebirth