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Fourth Chosen
by Chris Vogel



I

The light in the room was dim - curfew had been hours ago, and the night was dark. The air inside the Piata Academy was uncomfortably warm, as well, and the man sitting at the desk shifted restlessly, bowing his head over the books. After a few moments of intense study, a gust of wind extinguished the candle he was using for light. Taking it as a sign, the tall, slender man brushed the books off the desk. They fell loudly to the floor.

Rune Walsh stretched languorously, rose and walked across the room. With a sigh of contentment, the young student collapsed across the bed. Rune had quickly discovered that the life of the student was not his. No life seemed to be. He was only content wandering…he decided to leave the Academy that night.

Rune had been wandering since the death of his parents, five years before. The man was twenty now, and worldly, in his estimation, but he had always felt alone, as if some integral part of his being did not exist. Rising from the bed, sleep eluding him, he peered out across the city of learning.

"Might as well not waste the time," Rune snickered, then began packing up his belongings. A walking stick, a second suit of clothing, some money - he had always traveled light. Wrapping his things in a sheet he tied them to the top of his staff and jumped out the window. He was on the first story of the dorm, it wasn't a long fall. He dropped into the dewy grass, frozen. He could have sworn he had heard some kind of metallic chuckle as he had hopped from the window. Shrugging, but nonetheless cold, he started out towards the gates of the city.

"Rune Walsh."

Rune whirled, suddenly afraid, his hand dropping to the knife at his side. He saw two figures looming out of the darkness at him. One, an elderly, no, ancient, man stood before the other figure, leaning on a staff and radiating massive, competent power. The other figure gave off the same sort of feeling as the first, save to a lesser extent. He was also considerably more massive then the old man.

"Come now," the old man said in a strong voice. Hearing it, Rune might have attached it to a much younger man. "You won't be needing that. Not," he chuckled, "that it would do you much good against me. This," he gestured at his large companion, "is Tarva."

Rune took several slow steps back. An eerie, green glow had begun to emanate from the top of the staff the old man carried. A low, metallic hum, the sound Rune had mistaken for a 'chuckle' earlier, filled the air.

"It's true," the man, Tarva, said in a tone of utter awe. "He is the one."

Rune slipped suddenly, and dropped his knife. A strand of his blue hair obscured his vision for a moment, and the knife vanished into darkness. Regaining his balance, he gripped his staff even tighter. "What do you mean, 'the one'? Who are you, old man?"

"You are pert, boy," Tarva snapped. "You would be wise not to address the Esper in this fashion."

"That's all right, Tarva," the old man said placatingly, patting the large man's arm. "He has much to learn, and the question was valid, if improperly addressed. From now on, boy," he directed Rune with an icy glare, "you will refer to me as 'my Lord'. Or, if you prefer, 'Master Lutz'."

II

"Master? That'll be the day. Listen, old man-" Rune was cut off suddenly as, with no emotion whatsoever, Tarva stepped forward and slammed his fist into Rune's face. The young man stumbled backwards and fell. Lutz and Tarva loomed above him. Tenderly, Rune touched his face and felt warm blood from his split lip. "Hey!"

"I think, boy," Lutz said coldly. "That this is that day." The staff was still humming and glowing green.

"You better not try anything," Rune rose unsteadily to his feet. "If I yell I can have the watch here in a second, and they'd have no trouble dealing with a babbling old idiot like you-hey!" Once again, Rune found himself on the ground as the hulking Tarva swept his feet out from underneath him.

"Yell all you want, boy," Tarva said, "no one will hear you. Master Lutz saw to that. You would be wise to submit, lad." Tarva extended a hand to help Rune to his feet. Pushing it aside, Rune rose on his own. "Hear what the Lord Esper has to say."

"Fine," Rune submitted. Not like I have any choice, he thought to himself. "What are you going to do with me? Why me? Who are you?"

"Walk with me a while, boy," Lutz said softly, taking Rune by the arm and guiding him towards the gates of Piata. Though tall, lanky Rune stood head and shoulders taller then the old man, and was obviously physically stronger, it somehow felt right to stop struggling, and to submit to the overwhelming power of the man. Tarva followed behind as they walked out of the city into the night.

"Life," Lutz said suddenly after several moments, "is a series of events, and these events shape us, form us, give us destiny. Choose us for many things, for ways to live our lives. But there are those who are chosen for evil. For every dark being in the universe, there must be a catalyst of light. I am that catalyst. I am the Third Chosen. I have inherited the memories of the great Esper, Lutz, and taken his name. But now, my life is drawing to a close, and not even my most powerful arts can keep me alive. I must find the Fourth Chosen, the heir to the magical powers and the memories of Lutz. You are the Fourth Chosen, Rune Walsh."

With a bitter laugh, Rune wrenched his arm free of Lutz's grip. "You expect me to believe this? No one's ever chosen me for anything, so why should they start now? Even if there was such a thing as magic, I wouldn't be the one to use it. I'm nobody! And now, you have to come along and throw it in my face? Leave me alone, old man."

Rune turned and started walking stiffly, not really caring where he was going. Suddenly, and enormous red light flared up to his left. Fire! Throwing his arms across his face, Rune dove away. Rolling to a stop, he leapt to his feet and stared. Lutz, with Tarva behind him, were standing next to the splintered remains of a dead tree, now smoldering with flame. A shimmering trail of fire extended from the smoking remains of the tree, tied to the tip of Lutz's staff.

"Gods," Rune breathed. "How did you do that?" Somehow, he could guess the answer.

"Magic," Lutz said negligently. "The power to control existence. To take control of my life. I am in control of my life, Rune. Can you say the same?" Lutz gestured, and the fire vanished. "It is your destiny. Whether or not you wish it is…irrelevant. There is a time of darkness upon the horizon, Rune Walsh, and though you are not it's focus, you are a catalyst for good. Without my training and aid you will die." He chuckled. "In truth, I am almost glad to be leaving this world. If you fail, if you falter in your mission, the universe will die. That is why you must prove yourself."

"Prove myself? But you said…"

"I am well aware of that…but there are others, like Tarva, who may doubt the validity of my claims. You must be tested." Lutz idly tossed the staff from hand to hand, making it leave green streamers of light fading in the air. The humming was starting to grate on Rune.

Rune sighed in resignation. "You're not going to give me a choice, are you?" Lutz shook his head. Another sigh. "What must I do?"

"Take this." Lutz tossed the staff into the air and caught it at it's midpoint. He offered it to Rune, who took it, hesitantly. The moment Lutz released the staff, the humming vanished and the light faded. "The item you hold is possibly the second greatest object of magic in all of Algo. It is called the Psycho-Wand, and your job is, put simply, to seal it away."

"Why? Is it evil?"

"No," Lutz said sadly. "Nor is it good, and that makes it very, very dangerous. I don't suggest you try to unlock it's secrets just yet, boy. It would likely kill you before it would serve you. Behold."

With a gesture, Lutz caused an image of a white, slightly fluted tower to appear in the air. Indentations, like enormous, exaggerated steps, ran up it, too large it appeared for any mortal to walk on. "This," Lutz said, "is the Ladea Tower. It is where you must seal the Psycho-Wand up until such time as it is needed. The Ladea Tower itself is already sealed, and you will need help opening it. Do you know of the village of Tonoe?"

"I've been there, yes," Rune replied.

"Excellent. Go there, and show this wand to the man called Dorin. He fancies himself an information tycoon, and he has a role in your destiny as well. He will unseal the Ladea Tower for you, and, once the staff is safely at the top of the Tower, he will seal it back up. And, because I like you, boy, I will give you a small head start."

"Head start? What for?" Rune tested his grip on the Psycho-Wand. It was lightweight, and seemed charged with some unidentifiable power in his grip. It seemed to have been made for his hand.

"Why, before I send Tarva to retrieve the staff, of course. You didn't think it would be all that easy, did you, Rune? Tarva will be trying to get the staff from you - by any means necessary."

"If he gets the staff back, I fail?"

"Or if you die, yes. Go, boy, go, there is little time to waste."

Without pausing to think, Rune turned and ran.

III

Rune had ran blindly for most of the night before he was forced to admit he was hopelessly lost. He camped near a small pond, feeling hopelessly exposed to Tarva, who was doubtlessly following him by then. By morning, he was able to locate the highway connecting Piata to Mile, and asked directions from some travelers. Within the hour, he was heading east.

He briefly considered skirting Zema, but it was a fair distance to Tonoe, and Rune didn't have the supplies necessary for a long journey. Sighing, he entered the city.

Rune was very definitely swindled by the shopkeeper, but he didn't have time to waste haggling, an act he normally enjoyed very much. It was when he was walking down the street that he first caught sight of Tarva. The huge man had traded his strange blue armor for a peasant's coarse shirt and trousers. He still had the strange, boomerang-like weapon slid into his belt, and a sword hung at his side. He was leaning up against the city wall next to the gate, and Rune doubted he could slip past without being seen. Quickly, he darted into an alleyway.

It was dark, and Rune could see the faint green light emanating from the tip of the Psycho-Wand. The strange, keening hum picked up again, too. Rune wondered if it was reacting to the presence of Tarva. Lutz's last comment echoed again and again in Rune's mind, and he wondered if Lutz had empowered Tarva to kill him should it become necessary. Rune risked a glance out into the street and saw a sizeable group of people moving towards the gate. Working quickly, Rune tore some cloth from his cloak and wrapped it tightly around the tip of the Psycho-Wand, muffling it's humming and dimming it's light.

"Best I can do on short notice," Rune sighed and quickly slipped from the alley into the crowd. He glanced momentarily at the gate and gasped. Tarva was gone. Quickly looking around, he saw that the large man had joined the crowd. Rune felt a flash of panic, then bit it down. Tarva wouldn't attack him in the middle of this crowd, would he? He certainly hoped not. Sighing again, he tried to blend in with the crowd.

The crowd left Zema through the south gate and angled northwest toward the bridge to Aiedo. Rune lost sight of Tarva in the milling group. Glancing at the Psycho-Wand, he noticed it's light had dimmed. Maybe that means he's getting farther away, Rune hoped. Rune bided his time until they crossed the Aiedo Bridge. Rune had no particular urge to go to the Hunter's City, so as soon as they crossed, he broke away from the crowd and slid down the western embankment to the edge of the river. No one saw him go. Quickly, he darted under the bridge. Grimacing from the cold, he slid into the water. A few feet in, he slipped and fell underneath the surface. When he came, up, sputtering, Tarva was crouched on the southern bank, his destination, grinning at him evilly.

"Found you, boy," he sneered, and lunged. Rune had no time to dodge. The weight of the huge man drove him back under the water and he barely had time to take a gasping breath into his lungs before he was submerged. The Psycho-Wand was practically screaming, now. He wished it would shut up.

One of Tarva's enormous hand's groped for the Wand, but Rune was thrashing wildly and not letting him grab it. With the other hand, Tarva held Rune's head under the water.

Rune hadn't had time to take much air in, and his lungs were bursting. Finally, his thrashings got him somewhere. One of his feet struck Tarva between the legs. The huge man groaned and staggered backwards, letting go of Rune and the Psycho-Wand. The young man raised himself out of the river, gasping and spitting out water. He raised the staff threatening and began to retreat to the northern bank as Tarva rose.

"Don't come any closer, Tarva," he threatened. "I'm warning you…"

Without a word, Tarva drew his boomerang out of his belt and flung it at Rune. The wail of the staff became, if anything, louder, and suddenly there was a flash of blue light. The boomerang splashed into the river inches from Rune's face, and he hadn't even moved. Rune's eyes widened, and he ran, struggling along the river until he reached the south bank, then he was up and racing across the grassland. He heard Tarva running behind him, but the sounds of his pursuit fell farther and farther behind…

farther…

farther…

farther…

farther…

Then it was gone.

His clothes, his entire body, was too tight to hold in the power coursing around him. He flew at an incredible speed, his feet barely touching the ground, and all about him was green light, and the staff screamed in his hands, it's song of ultimate power drifting up into the heavens, mocking the gods.

That was Rune's first taste of magic.

IV

Rune staggered into Tonoe an hour later, his journey over in an impossibly brief time, his clothes still dripping with murky lake water and covered with dust from the trail.

"I am looking…" he gasped, "for Dorin…take me to Dorin…" Refusing anything he was offered, those were the only words he spoke. So they took him to Dorin.

Rune was still surrounded by the euphoria of the staff's magic, though he was slowly shaking off the intoxication, and was aware of how cold he was. He was vaguely aware of the man before him, a Motavian with blue fur and tiny red eyes. He was vaguely aware of the fact he was being stripped and bathed and dried like a child, and changed into clean, dry clothes. But mostly he was aware that they had taken the staff from him. The magic had vanished from his life again. He was no longer whole.

The morning light filtered through the window in the tent-like building Motavians seemed to be so fond of. It fell upon Rune's face, and he groaned, covering his eyes with his arms. He shook his fist at it, but eventually he was forced to sit up and look around.

The clothes he had worn had been dried and tossed over a chair nearby. Rune changed into them quickly. A steaming plate of stew sat near the bed, and looking at it, Rune realized how hungry he was. He devoured it voraciously, savoring every bite.

"Well," a voice said from the door suddenly. "You're awake." Rune looked up, not really surprised. A blue-furred Motavian stood in the doorway.

"Hello," he said, not really sure what else would be appropriate. "I am Rune Walsh. You are?"

"I know who you are, Rune," the man said, grinning. "I'm Dorin, the information monger. I understand you were looking for me when you arrived. You were in pretty bad shape, and…What's wrong?" Rune was suddenly on his feet and searching the tent.

"My staff," he said frantically. "Dorin, where is my staff?"

"We put it in my tent for safe-keeping. I don't really think it's safe, Rune. It was glowing and wailing when you ran into town. You weren't well at all. Come to my tent and you can tell me what you want in Tonoe while you get your staff."

Dorin led Rune through Tonoe, past the either uncaring or suspicious glances of the villagers. Rune found the furred, red-eyed Motavians slightly unnerving. He was glad to get out of the streets into Dorin's tent.

Dorin himself was typical of most native Motavians - blue furred and with close set, beady red eyes. Rune made him out to be about fifty, and though he might have once been athletic, he had a slightly plump appearance to him. Rune was relieved to see the Psycho-Wand leaning up against the wall of the tent. With a triumphant smile, he picked it up. It seemed heavier in his hand, somehow.

Dorin looked around the tent carefully, then shut and locked the door. "Good," he said, sounding relieved, "we're alone. Now you can tell me where on earth you got that particular abomination."

"You know what it is?" Rune was stunned.

Dorin scoffed. "Of course, I'm not stupid. I know the Psycho-Wand when I see it. It has a feel to it, and that god-awful wail!" He groaned. "Splits my head. Now, what exactly are you doing with it, boy?"

"I wish people would stop calling me that," Rune snapped. "My name is Rune!"

With surprising strength, Dorin grabbed the front of Rune's robes and slammed him against the wall. "Where did you get the staff, Rune?" He hissed it into Rune's face. "It almost killed you last night, don't you understand? You're not equipped to handle it's powers! If you lose control of it's might again, you'll explode apart, cease to exist, you'll, you'll…you'll be sorry if you don't return the staff."

"I can't!" Rune risked it all on a gamble. "Lutz gave it to me! I'm the Fourth Chosen! I have to seal it up! He told me to come to you…"

"Liar," Dorin snapped, though his voice lacked conviction. "There hasn't been a Fourth Chosen in over a thousand years." Nonetheless, he released Rune.

Smoothing his robes and trying to look urbane, Rune looked Dorin straight in the eye. "How do you know all this? How do you know about Lutz or the Psycho-Wand, or any of this?"

Dorin heaved himself down into a gaudy pink chair with a sigh. "I was almost the Fourth Chosen, Rune. Several years ago, Lutz and a brute by the name of Tarva-"

"I know him," Rune interjected. Dorin ignored him.

"Lutz and Tarva came to me and told me of Lutz and the legacy. But the Psycho-Wand didn't react to my presence the way it does to people with the potential, with the light and the hum. But Lutz saw something else in me…He said something about Destiny and he took me far to the east. He showed me a place called the Ladea Tower and gave me instructions…it seems the time for my role in this game has come to pass. Lutz said that the Fourth Chosen would come to me, bearing the Psycho-Wand, and I was to help him seal it up atop the Ladea Tower."

"I know," Rune said, "that's why I came. I'm being tested. Tarva is following me, and he's going to kill me get the staff…that's my test. You have to help me seal up the Psycho-Wand or he'll kill me. Please, Dorin, please. I didn't ask for this, but I need your help."

A long moment of silence passed. After what seemed an eternity, Dorin said, "Fine. I believe you. I need to get some things, some supplies, but tomorrow, if that's what you want, I'll take you to the Ladea Tower." Raising a hand imperiously to cut off Rune's protest. "Tomorrow. Now, go rest. You have a long several days ahead of you."

V

They traveled south on foot under the hot Motavian sun. Rune had wrapped the top of the Psycho-Wand the same way he had in Zema, to muffle it's almost constant hum and light. Dorin had said that the staff reacted to people with potential - it had hummed when near Tarva and near Rune. It's patterns seemed erratic and confusing, so Rune didn't bother trying to guess when the humming and the light would start or stop. The Ladea Tower, Dorin said, was a fair distance away, to the southeast, but Tonoe was separated from the Tower by a large gulf, as well, which made their journey even longer. It would be at least a week to reach the Tower by foot.

Dorin, for the most part, was silent, walking briskly for a man of his apparent age. Rune grew to hate that long, quick, unbreaking stride of his new companion. Everything seemed to be annoying him these days. Finally, Rune felt a need to break the silence.

"How exactly do you unseal the Tower, Dorin?" He wiped sweat off his brow and looked at his companion. The noonday sun was at it's apex.

"I'm not sure, actually," Dorin responded. "According to what Lutz said, the power is simply a facet of my being. I'll know when I need to know." He chuckled. "It sounded so much more plausible in my head. Oh, well. We'll open it, don't you worry, boy - eh, Rune."

Rune smiled thinly. "I wish I shared your optimism, Grandfather."

Dorin gave him a skewed glance. "Grandfather?"

"It shows respect, Dorin." Rune smirked. "However deserved it might be, I wasn't talking about your age."

Dorin scowled. "But, Grandfather…I like that. Grandfather Dorin, information monger. Yes, I like that a lot." Rune laughed.

They walked all that day and the next, and that night they camped in a grove of trees. Just north of them was a wide mountain pass that marked the half way point of their journey. In the morning, they began pitching tent. That was when Tarva arrived.

The big man loomed out of the misty morning darkness directly before Rune. Rune cried out to Dorin and leapt away as Tarva swung an enormous fist at Rune's head. As Rune fell, Dorin grabbed his arm and dragged him to his feet. They stood side by side, with Tarva moving closer, and closer…

"Run," Dorin hissed into Rune's ear. "Make for the pass, there is a village beyond. I'll meet you there later."

"What if…" Rune tried to protest.

"No time," Dorin snapped.

"What are you whispering about, Dorin?" Tarva's voice was booming and dripping with venom. "I see you've fallen in with the wrong company, False Chosen. Turn over the boy and I shall leave you in peace."

Rune fumbled at his belt for the knife he had bought in Zema, but suddenly Dorin pushed him. He stumbled and fell into the undergrowth. Tarva gave a bestial roar and charged, but Dorin leapt between Tarva and Rune.

"Never call me that again!" Dorin's voice was an agonized shriek. "Never! Run, Rune!"

The last thing Rune saw before he scrambled into the darkness was Dorin throwing himself bodily against Tarva.

Rune huddled in the bushes, the ice cold of the rainy day biting him to the bone. He shivered, and adjusted the Psycho-Wand across his lap. He had been crouched there for hours, and could hear Tarva moving through the bush all around him, close but never seeing him. So far there had been no sign of Dorin. The Psycho-Wand was buzzing, but luckily Rune had bundled it so well in Tonoe that the sound was almost inaudible.

Tarva sounded closer now, and coming nearer still. Rune decided now was time to make his move. Rising and clutching the cumbersome staff in one armpit, he began to crawl through the bushes. Raindrops fell through the canopy above and across his back.He glanced up for a moment, and the Psycho-Wand's position shifted, the cloth wrapping catching on a bramble. Unknowing, Rune started forward once more, and with a tearing sound, the cloth tore free.

Eeeeeeeeeeee

Immediately the sounds of Tarva's movement stopped. Rune cursed silently and turned about helplessly, and his eyes fell upon the gem inset on the head of the staff. Something clicked in his mind and he felt himself being drawn forward, into the Wand.

Light, sound and energy merged about him, their boundaries becoming indistinct and starkly clear in the same moment. Forces hammered at Rune, and other's cushioned him from the blows. Night became day and day became night. Rune extended his mind in all directions, testing the magic, his limits. Within the Psycho-Wand he had no limits, and yet could do nothing. Or everything. Every sensation he was acutely aware of drifted into the background, and his mind was filled with those he had never noticed. The smell of air, the light in darkness, the darkness in light, the shape of a raindrop, the complexities of the human mind.

And then it was gone.

Without thinking, his mind still merged with the Psycho-Wand, a pure and perfect connection, Rune rose, pointed the staff at the surprised Tarva, and…

…well, he wasn't sure exactly how to describe what he did then.

A column of fire shot from the gold-tipped head of the Psycho-Wand and struck Tarva in the chest. He was hurled backwards by the blow and slammed against a tree. He slumped, silent, and the connection vanished. Rune's knees felt weak, but leaning on the Psycho-Wand, feeling his body preparing to collapse from strain all around him, he hobbled over to Tarva and drew his knife. He raised it to strike.

A strong hand grasped the knife and pulled it away, tossing it into the brush. Rune turned, and caught a glimpse of Dorin's face seconds before the Motavian pushed him backwards. Rune fell heavily, and before he could react, Dorin had taken the Psycho-Wand.

The ravages of his own magical exertion, dimmed by the Psycho-Wand, struck him full force, and he collapsed, gasping to fill his lungs, clutching his sides.

"Lutz warned you not to use this, didn't he, Rune?" Dorin inspected the wand carefully. "Magic isn't a game or a toy, Rune. It can kill you as easily as it can heal you. The Psycho-Wand can help you, dim the strain of magic, but without proper discipline, you will be torn apart by your magic. You have enormous power, possibly greater potential then I have ever seen, but you can't go on like this, without training. Fight it, Rune, fight it."

"I can't," Rune gasped between clenched teeth. "I can't." A sudden idea struck him. He looked hopefully up at Dorin, tears running down his cheeks. "Give me the staff, Dorin. It'll stop if you…give me the staff."

"No."

"Give me the damned staff!" Rune screamed, lunging forward and locking his hands around Dorin's neck. With his free hand, Dorin casually dislodged Rune's weak grip and pushed him backwards. Then - to Rune's horror - he pitched the staff away. The golden head embedded itself in a tree and it hung there, quivering.

"No, Rune," Dorin said sadly. "I won't let you become addicted to this power. If you're going to use it, you must learn discipline."

How long Rune lay there, gasping and pleading with Dorin, he did not know. But between one word and the next, he got really angry. His pleas became yells, howls of hatred, and then -

Rune gasped, clutching at his sides, then suddenly went limp. "It's over," he gasped.

Dorin nodded. "You beat it."

"I wish I could thank you for that, Dorin, but," Rune trailed off. "I need time."

"Don't bother. I don't expect - or particularly want - thanks, where that thing is concerned. Rune glanced at Tarva. "He should be out for a while more. We can still escape."

"Good," Rune replied. He started off.

"Rune," Dorin called. "Take the Psycho-Wand."

Rune turned, looking at the staff with no small amount of dread. Reaching out, he placed his hand upon the shaft, then quickly drew the staff from the tree. It was then he noticed that the buzzing had stopped.

VI

There isn't all that more to tell. After making their escape from Tarva, Rune and Dorin made for the Ladea Tower. Within a week, they had arrived at it's gate.

The Ladea Tower was an enormous thing, seemingly carved from ivory, yet it felt so much more powerful, as if magic coursed in it's very foundation. It was gigantic, rising to the sky like an enormous finger, mocking the heavens. And before Rune and Dorin was it's gate.

"So," Rune said, trying to bite down the overwhelming awe he felt. "How does it open?"

Dorin didn't respond, moving closer to the immense, carved gateway. Runes and drawings covered it's surface, and Dorin seemed to be concerned with these. Then, he suddenly gasped. "I understand!" he exulted. Leaning close, he placed his hands upon the door. "Open," he commanded in a booming voice.

With a screeching noise that set Rune's teeth on edge, the enormous gateway swung open.

"That's amazing, Dorin," Rune commended. "How did you figure it out?"

"I read the message on the gate. Why didn't you do that?"

Rune smirked. "I can't read it, Dorin."

The Motavian frowned, then peered at the runes once more. "Hmm," he said. "Neither can I. Shall we go?"

If the outside of the Tower had been impressive, the interior was amazing. It was a maze of tunnels and passageways, confusing and intricate, but slowly Rune and Dorin worked their way to the top. At the very top of the Ladea Tower, stairs led to the open air. Rune and Dorin clambered out onto the terrace, wind howling about them.

An enormous dais, last of the gigantic steps running up the tower, rose before them, save that this step had much smaller stairs running up it. Somehow, Rune knew he was being waited for at the top. With Dorin behind him, he started up.

At the top was a long, silvered case, standing on it's end. It was open, and as Rune looked at it, the Psycho-Wand began to glow with an angry red light. Somehow, Rune knew it didn't want to be sealed away.

"You've done well, Rune," a voice came from below. "Now finish it. Seal the Psycho-Wand."

Rune didn't bother to turn around. "I won't, Lutz."

"I'm not offering a choice."

"Time to start."

Suddenly, Lutz stood directly between Rune and the case. "No! What possible use could you have for the thing, Rune? This is you destiny…"

"Shut up!" Rune gave a cry of frustration. "Is that all you know of? Destiny? What about me? You put me through hell, Lutz! I've been beaten, frightened, toyed with, almost drowned, for something I don't really care about."

"Rune, there will come a time when someone else needs you. He too will have been beaten, frightened and toyed with. You must be the one to help him through that, or the universe will end. If there is not a Lutz to combat the coming night, then we will all die. All of Algo, all of the universe, will die. If you have a shred of dignity in you, Rune Walsh, if you have ever cared about anyone on this planet, you will seal the staff now."

Rune scoffed. "Leave me alone, old man." Turning, he began to walk down the steps, still holding the Psycho-Wand.

"I can tell you his name," Lutz said, no trace of worry in his voice. Rune paused.

"His name? Give me a break."

"Chaz," Lutz said. "His name will be Chaz."

"Let him find his own guardian, then."

"He will. And she will leave him. And then he will need you, Rune, more then anything else. Seal the Psycho-Wand, Rune. Do it."

There was a steely edge in Lutz's voice that Rune had not expected. Turning, he looked Lutz in the eye. Then he shook his head. "Chaz," he said. "What a dumb name." Walking forward, he placed the Psycho-Wand almost reverently in the silvered case. The moment he had drawn his hand free, the case slid shut.

"Done," Lutz said. "Dorin," he addressed the silent Motavian for the first time. "Thank you."

"I did what had to be done, Lutz," Dorin replied.

"I shall send you home, if that is your wish."

"It is, Third Chosen. I think, no, I know, that my role in this isn't over yet." Dorin smiled. "Goodbye, Fourth Chosen."

"Goodbye, Dorin," Rune said with a catch in his voice. "Be well."

"As always," Dorin replied. "I'm ready, Lutz."

And then he vanished.

"And now, Rune," Lutz sighed. "Our journey has only begun." He extended his hand. "Let us begin."

"Tarva?" Rune asked.

"He awaits us at our destination. Come, Rune."

Reaching out, Rune took Lutz's hand.

"Are you sure it's time?" Dorin asked. Next to him, Rune nodded.

"I felt it in the earth, Dorin. The time has come."

"If that is what you think, Lutz," Dorin replied.

"I do," Rune said. "Can you find your way back to Tonoe?"

Dorin shook his head. "The quicksand…"

Rune nodded, and passed his hand across Dorin's face. Slowly, the image of the Motavian began to fade. "Be well, Dorin," Rune said.

"As always," Dorin replied with a faint laugh.

Then Dorin was gone. Turning, Rune looked for the second time in his life at the massive form of the Ladea Tower, opened once more by Dorin. He could see, far above him, the eerie red light that no other mortal could see without magic, and all around him was a strange hum.

"Come, Chaz," he said slowly, starting into the Tower. "I'm waiting."

And all around him the humming continued, unabated.

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