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Chapter 3

The first sensation Chaz felt upon awakening was the gentle touch of a healing spell upon his body. He was on his back with a moist cloth pressed against his forehead. Brushing away the hand that held the cloth, he sat upright, blinking.

He was in his own room in the Mansion-how long after his collapse he wasn't sure. Nearby, faces betraying worry, were two Espers he didn't know, and Kyra and Narrel. Kyra looked pale and slightly wan.

"What happened?" he asked.

"You had a reaction to a sudden eruption of Black Energy somewhere on the planet," Kyra replied. "Your Numan blood is rather diluted and not equipped to deal with Black Energy effectively, and you had a seizure."

"But Black Energy doesn't exist anymore…"

"Evidently it does," Kyra told him. "There must be Black Energy out there somewhere, existing independently of the Profound Darkness. We thought it was an impossibility, but…"

"Morovin?" Narrel asked her.

"There is very little doubt in my mind that Morovin played a role in this, yes. But what his purpose is now I can't imagine, anymore then I can figure out where he got the Black Energy. But I'm sure that the Dark Espers are on the move again."

"Why did they attack us?" Chaz asked.

"Well, it's obvious why they would attack me, but I don't honestly think it was an attack. The Black Energy wasn't strong enough to kill anyone, and we were the only two on Dezolis effected." Kyra shook her head. "No, I think that the eruption of Black Energy was a peripheral result of something else happening, but what that could be…" She trailed off.

"How long ago did the Black Energy hit?"

"Only about fifteen minutes ago, Chaz."

* * *

His blood was still roaring in his ears and the ecstasy of magic still filled his body, even after the ritual. Morovin reveled in it, feeling his power slowly returning. The chapel was motionless, save for the ebbing and flowing of the shadow's cast by the energy-charged form Morovin had created.

His power had returned sufficiently to continue, he decided. There was one more thing to be done before Algo could be destroyed. Reaching for the hilt of Netrdeon with his good hand, Morovin raised it above his head. A cheer went up from the Chosen Espers amassed to watch the ceremony. The form stirred, but lacked power to move or speak.

There was not sufficient Black Energy left in the world to power Netrdeon to the extent it had once been powered, but Morovin had spent a long time trying to decide how to get around it. Finally, he had hit upon the perfect solution.

Morovin lay the simple black hilt at the feet of the creature he had made and picked up the wrapped package that he had carried from his rooms. He tore away the cover and held it up for all to behold.

It was a blade made of the purest t'santari, so clear and shining that it refracted light a thousand times more effectively then any prism. Morovin let another cheer wash over him. He had made the right choice. He would have his new weapon, and his figurehead to go with it.

He lay down the blade so that the flat end was pointed towards the indentation where once the black blade of the Netrdeon had fit. Taking the hilt in his good hand, he slid it along the slab until it connected with the t'santari blade.

There was a flare of light as the dormant spells Morovin had lain upon the blade flared to life, and stirred the Black Energy which had been quiescent in the hilt for so long. They forged into a new weapon, the magic enhancing blade combining with the Black Energy in a fearful synergy.

Morovin felt the Black Energy stir, then, unexpectedly, erupt. A rust colored stain spread upwards along the length of the blade, turning the crystal and ugly, coppery red. Then, magnified somewhat by the t'santari blade that Morovin had sealed to the hilt, it erupted free of the blade, expanding outwards again.

"As my soul has given life to this sword, so shall it be named!" Morovin cried out. "Soulflame!" He turned, holding the rust colored sword with the black hilt upwards. "Hail the master!" He practically screamed it. "Hail the Disciple, the Lord Seth!"

* * *

By the time Kyra sensed the second eruption, it was too late to pinpoint the source-and too late to extend her defenses around Chaz to save his life. She was momentarily stunned by the new Black Energy hammering against her defenses, but Chaz was hit with enough force to kill. He gasped, then screamed as the Black Energy seeped into his system.

"Kyra?" Narrel gaped, but then she pushed past him and lay her hands on Chaz's chest, probing with her mind, deep into Chaz's body. The Black Energy hadn't penetrated far enough to kill, yet. One of Rune Walsh's memories, triggered by the similarity to one of the events in his life, told her it wasn't too late to save him. Kyra felt an odd sadness as she steeled herself, then drew all the Black Energy out of Chaz and into herself.

The world went black.

* * *

"Kyra? Kyra? Most Reverent? Are you all right?"

Kyra's eyes slowly opened. She was lying on the floor of Chaz's room, with Narrel and the two healers who had treated Chaz kneeling near her. Narrel's face betrayed intense relief as her eyes opened.

"What happened, Kyra?"

"There was…" Her tongue felt like cotton. "I need some water."

At Narrel's gesture, one of the Espers went to the pitcher and glass they had brought for Chaz. A moment later she returned and handed Kyra the water. Narrel helped her to a sitting position, and Kyra drank for several moments before speaking.

"There was a second eruption of Black Energy. It was going to kill Chaz so…Chaz?"

"He's fine," Narrel told her reassuringly. "After you passed out, he stopped screaming and fell asleep, just like that," he snapped his fingers. "He's sleeping peacefully."

"We'll need to wake him up. Help me up, Narrel."

Narrel helped Kyra to her feet, then supported her as she stood unsteadily in the middle of the room. After a second, she waved him off and smoothed her robes. An unearthly calm had come over her.

"Wake him?" Narrel asked. "Why?"

Kyra smiled faintly. "Because I'm dying, Narrel, and I need to select my Chosen before that happens. The only way to save Chaz was to draw all the Black Energy into myself. He was more important," she said, seeing Narrel's speechless horror. "You have to understand. He's still a Protector. I'm not." She gestured towards the two Espers who had revived her and Chaz. "One of you awaken him, get him dressed, and send him to the Council Chambers. The other, go and find Rachel Toraneille. I want them both in the Council Chambers as quickly as possible. Narrel, are you going to help me or not?"

"I can't believe this is happening," Narrel told her once they were out in the hall.

"These things happen," Kyra told him as lightly as she could, but she knew there was sadness in her voice. "When I select my Chosen, we'll have to conduct the ceremony immediately. I want to be there when it's passed on. You'll have to guide the new Lutz, Narrel, and get to the bottom of this before it can happen again. Do you understand?"

"Yes. I'll do my best, Kyra."

"In the past, I've usually found your best to be very satisfactory, Narrel. I won't have any misgivings about leaving the new Lutz in your hands."

* * *

By the time Chaz, Rachel, Kyra, Narrel and the Council had arrived in the Chambers, even Kyra's iron will was beginning to crack under the strain of holding off the Black Energy. She was leaning even more heavily on Narrel by the time they were ready to begin.

"Before this Council, my peers, and the future of the Espers," Kyra intoned with as much strength as she could muster, "I call upon Rachel Toraneille to step forward." Her voice sounded very small in the large, echoing Council Chamber.

As always, Rachel was radiant, but her eyes held a fear, apprehension, and sadness that Kyra remembered well from the day Rune Walsh had called her to the Council Chambers. What did the future hold for her if she was chosen? What did the future hold if she was not?

"Before this Council, my peers, and the future of the Espers," Kyra repeated, turning her eyes from Rachel, "I call upon Chaz Lain to step forward." The sentence echoed throughout the Chamber.

Chaz was still wan and pale from the aftereffects of the Black Energy, and Kyra imagined she didn't look too much better, either. But his stance was proud and erect, his eyes doing their best to cover the emotions that mirrored Rachel's, and failing miserably.

Protectors both. Two of the strongest Espers who ever lived. She smiled with some fondness. Children yet, naïve to the possibilities for the one who was Chosen. They both wanted it, but there was still a kind of love holding the two of them together, and they didn't really want to hurt the other, either. She was sorry she was going to have to hurt one of them.

A long moment passed in silence, then another. Kyra felt a stab of pain in her chest and it was only Narrel's support that kept her standing. Holding herself erect as best she could, she turned to face the Council.

"I have made my choice," she told them. She hesitated only a moment before going on. "My Chosen, the Sixth Chosen, will be Rachel Toraneille."

"Hear and honor the word of Lutz," the Council intoned as one. "Rachel Toraneille, Sixth Chosen, Lord of the House of Esper."

By the time she had turned around, Chaz was already gone and the Council Chamber doors shut behind him. With a pang, Kyra knew she had seen him for the last time in her life. Stepping away from Narrel, Kyra removed the symbol of her office, the legendary Frade Mantle, and then, walking forward, lay it about Rachel's trembling shoulders, clasping it carefully against her throat. Kyra looked into Rachel's tear-filled eyes and smiled softly.

"Most Reverent," she whispered.

Kyra smiled again. "No." She touched Rachel's cheek. "You are the Most Reverent now." She turned to face the Council. "Bring me the journals."

One of the Councilmen produced a thick, leather bound volume, plainly decorated, and a quill. This was Kyra's last act as Lutz, to lay down her thoughts and feelings for future Generations. When the book was closed, Rachel Toraneille would be the Sixth Chosen.

Narrel helped Kyra to her ceremonial seat at the heat of the Council Chambers, where she knelt over the book and wrote in it for several long minutes. Then, looking up, she gave a sigh of regret and closed the book.

"It is done," she said.

"Then," Narrel said thickly, "we must go." He extended a hand to Kyra and helped her up. "To Lutz's Room," he ordered. As one, the Council rose. As Kyra and Narrel walked slowly together towards the doorway, Rachel fell in beside them, not speaking.

Outside, in the Courtyard, the ground was carpeted with soft new snow that gave the air a crisp coldness. The Council filed into the Inner Sanctum and remained there while Kyra, Rachel and Narrel descended the stairs into Lutz's Room.

When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Kyra turned and faced Narrel. "Goodbye, Speaker," she told him.

"Farewell, Kyra," he replied.

"Just goodbye. Just goodbye. Farewell means forever, and forever doesn't exist." She leaned closer, dropping her voice. "I know how you feel, Narrel, and I'm sorry. This is how it has to be." Then she leaned forward and gently brushed her lips across his. "You have to go now."

Narrel nodded wordlessly, then reached up and touched one hand to his lips. Dropping it to his side, he turned and walked up the stairs. The last thing he heard before distance muffled all sound was Kyra's voice.

"All right, Rachel. Are you ready?"

Narrel reached the top and stepped away from the stairs to join the ranks of the Council awaiting the end to the ceremony.

There was no sense of magic, no bright lights or explosions from the heavens, only a long, long silence, so deep and intense that the sound of falling snow would have been booming just then. A sudden stillness crept over the Esper Mansion, as all those within paused in what they were doing, and listened to the silence.

And then it happened. Just a sound, a small one.

A tiny sigh drifted for a moment through the halls of the Esper Mansion, then faded away to nothingness.

Another long moment passed, and then someone ascended the stairs from Lutz's Room.

"It is done," said Rachel Toraneille, the Sixth Chosen, the Seventh Generation Lutz softly. "It is done."

"Hail the Most Reverent," Narrel said quietly. "Welcome, Lutz."

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