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Chapter 4

Chaz didn't hear the sigh, and he wasn't present when the woman he still loved became the Seventh Generation Lutz. Chaz Lain was in his room.

He didn't have much to take-Esper lived sparse lives, not out of any sense of ascetics, but rather a lack of need. The people of Meese still paid a regular tribute to the Espers out of gratitude for their aid during the Redemption, and the recent addition of the Dezolisian refugees to the scenery increased commerce considerably. Dezolisians alone knew how to farm the barren tundra effectively, and so the Esper Mansion and the small town functioned independently of outside aid and did quite well for themselves too.

These were the least of things Chaz was thinking about-indeed, they didn't even brush on his mind as he grabbed up his clothing and jammed them into a coarse cloth sack.

What did it feel like to be Lutz? Why had Rachel been picked over him-he was stronger, anyone could see that. He was the one with the will-he had wanted to keep going when Rachel had given up. Why had Kyra…

Kyra. Chaz's eyes brimmed in spite of himself. His hand paused in the process of jamming one of his two tunics into the bag, and for a moment considered what he was doing. A tear rolled down his cheek. Angrily, Chaz brushed it aside and shoved what clothes he would need into the sack.

The Tyler spaceport was still operational, even though the spaceship had been removed. Chaz would contact Wren, Demi, Danielle and Tamgren when he got there, and they would come and get him and take him home. Eight years was long enough to study by far, and, as a full Esper, he was entitled to take 'take up the staff', as the Espers called it, and go wandering abroad.

He just wanted to go home.

"I'm sorry, Kyra," he whispered to himself. "I really am. But I've never been happy here…we both knew it. I'm just sorry if I'm disappointing you."

Then he steeled himself, and made the Jump out of the Mansion and straight into the teeth of a shrieking blizzard.

It was only a few moments later that someone knocked on his door. When no answer was forthcoming, Narrel pushed it open and walked in. "Chaz?" he called out. "Chaz, Rachel wants to see you. Chaz?"

* * *

When everything, temperature included, was controlled by magic, it was easy to forget how rigorous a long hike through below freezing temperatures could be. Chaz staggered along blindly, the wind howling about him, numbing what little skin was exposed to it.

Chaz stopped and let the wind shriek around him for a bit, trying to get his bearing. He was completely turned around. With everything three feet out from his face a white haze, it was next to impossible to find anything, least of all, it seemed, Jut.

He'd Jump again if he knew where to Jump too. The Esper Mansion was bordered by a massive ravine on it's eastern side-if he miscalculated he could reappear over the chasm. It was a long fall, but not nearly long enough to make another Jump. To the south were the Fire's Teeth Mountains, renowned for being, despite their name, absolutely bitterly cold. If he tried Jumping to Jut and overcalculated, he would wander for days in the ice wastes to the west of the city before finally starving to death.

Swearing under his breath, Chaz picked a direction and stumbled in it until his strength gave out and he collapsed onto his knees. The snow, thigh high, melted through Chaz's warmest clothing and soaked his flesh. He rose, stamping his feet, comforted by the tingling rush of blood into his feet. He wasn't frostbitten, not yet.

He'd been so stupid! Now he was probably going to starve or freeze to death before the blizzard gave out, unless he could find a cave, or crevice, or…

Lights. Chaz squinted into the distance, straining to see through the snow. There it was again, a bobbing light moving through the snow far to his left. Chaz called out to whoever was holding it, waving his arms above his head and yelling at the top of his lungs. The motion of the light stopped, then began to move towards him. A group of figures resolved themselves from the white haze of the blizzard. The lead one held the light, a globe of pure daylight balanced gently on his fingertips. Chaz could sense the magic emanating from it.

"I know you'd come to look for me!" he gasped. The Espers had found him, they'd…

Black.

They were wearing black.

Before he could stop to consider what he was doing, Chaz called to mind a spell of fire and summoned a helix of flame dancing about his fingertips. The helix coalesced into a column of fire which extended from his open palm to slam into the leader's chest, bowling him over but not piercing that distinctive black armor.

Eight years, and Chaz Lain had found the Dark Espers by sheer fluke.

Then the remaining Dark Espers sprang into action, attacking not physically as Chaz had, but mentally, hammering at his consciousness. A dreamy lassitude began to creep over his body, and he noticed that he had collapsed onto his knees. Part of his mind was screaming, screaming at him to wake up, pay attention, to fight, as he was grabbed and lashed to the rump of a hardy Dezolisian pony. The lassitude intensified as the Dark Espers remounted and began to canter through the blizzard, and the screaming followed Chaz as he descended into darkness.

* * *

"No word from Chaz?" Rachel asked. Narrel shook his head.

"I'm afraid not." Glancing at Rachel as they walked down the hall, Narrel noticed her look of anguish and allowed his pace to slow to a stop. He grasped Rachel's should gently. "Most Reverent, it's been three weeks and it's not your fault. You know how Chaz is. He's probably just gone back to Motavia. It's where he's always been happiest. He has a path and you have yours. You're going to have to understand that they may not lie together."

"Narrel," Rachel said in a gently admonishing tone, "how many times do I have to tell you? Kyra is fine." She noticed his jaw drop and immediately she realized what she had done. "Oh, Narrel," she said, "I'm sorry…"

"I know," Narrel said, but his eyes betrayed his inner pain. "It's all right. Every Lutz needs some time to get used to the memories before they can take up their full duties. I understand."

"Thank you."

"To be honest, Rachel," Narrel said, changing the subject as artfully as he knew how, "I don't really know what you plan to get out of Morgan. Neither Kyra nor I ever had any luck."

Rachel smiled at him and tapped her forehead lightly. "But Kyra knew some things. Morgan knows you both-she was there when Morovin tortured you, right?"

Narrel nodded, allowing his mind to drift back towards painful and horrific mental rape he had endured while in the captivity of Morovin during the Alisian Wars. Morovin's love of pain went hand in hand with a love of humiliation, and he was very good at achieving both.

"And she'd also learned to anticipate Kyra as well…Eight years is a long time, and she's only had the two of you too talk to. She may be completely mad, but she's also shrewd. She doesn't know me," Rachel concluded, "so maybe we can throw her a curve."

Narrel smiled in spite of himself, snapped back to the present. "I don't expect you'll have much luck, Most Reverent, but I would like to see Morgan at a loss. Just one time."

Rachel chuckled. Then she sobered. "Narrel, the Profound Darkness is dead?"

Narrel's brows came together and he gave Rachel a questioning look. "Of course it is. Alys Ashley destroyed it and the Netrdeon during-"

"I know," Rachel replied distantly. "But if it's dead, why can evil still exist? Morovin and Morgan and the Dark Espers-shouldn't they have…" She waved her hand in a vague gesture. "Changed?"

Narrel started walking again, then took his chin in his hands contemplatively. "There's a difference between the nature of the universe and the nature of man, Rachel. At least that's what some say. Evil in people is merely drawn from evil in the universe, but it's not precisely the same thing…Another theory describes a concept of 'chaos'."

"Chaos?"

"Think of the universe as being two distinct states blended together. They depend upon each other. But if you simply remove half of the universe everything collapses in on itself-a human body without a brain, so to speak."

"A shell."

"Precisely. Incapable of function. So it stands to reason that, since the Universe has yet to end, evil must still exist. There was some tests done prior to the Alisian War that extended into the basic fabric of reality, and what came from them was the 'random chaos theory', a theory saying that evil is gradually being eliminated because it has nothing left to sustain itself with. But they also discovered chaos, something that seemed to have been spontaneously created by the death of the Profound Darkness. These bubbles of chaos, so to speak, move up and down the timestream, and burst at different points, tipping the scales in favor of evil. In that way, the universe sustains itself until such time as it can safely remove the evil. Do you understand?"

"I think so."

Narrel chuckled, obviously enjoying the esoteric discussion thoroughly and not caring that he seemed to have left Rachel completely in the dust. "One offshoot of that theory states that time began when Alys Ashley shattered the Netrdeon, that the creation of the universe was simply the result of one of the chaos bubbles being in the right place at the right time."

Rachel was relieved when Morgan's room came into view. The two guards acknowledged her presence with a brief nod.

"How has she been?" Rachel asked.

The guards hesitated, then one of them grinned wryly. "Morgan, Most Reverent." Narrel chuckled and pushed open the door so that Rachel could go in.

"Why hello, Narrel. What a pleasure it is to see you. It's been too long."

Narrel nodded to the Dark Esper. "Hello, Morgan."

"I was very sorry to hear about Kyra's death. I know how much she meant to you." Morgan, seated on a chair turned to face the window, didn't look at Narrel and Rachel as they entered, but she chuckled as Narrel stiffened. "Have you had any luck tracking down Morovin?"

"No, Morgan. That's why we're here."

Morgan smiled and ran her tongue across her lips, looking vaguely serpentine in the light. "I didn't think you would." She turned and nodded to Rachel. "You should warn her, Narrel. Morovin knows what she is. He knows that she has Noah, and Lutz, and Rune, and Kyra locked away inside of her. She deserves to know the role that you've thrust her into."

"Tell me yourself," Rachel said coldly, stepping between Narrel and Morgan.

"How tiresome she is, Narrel." Morgan sighed and rose. Walking across the room to Rachel, she circled her once, as if taking stock of someone she intended to wrestle to the ground. For a moment, Rachel felt like a field mouse being hunted down by a falcon.

"You will address me to my face, Morgan!"

Morgan laughed softly. "Whatever you'd like, child."

* * *

The heavy wooden doors to the War Room banged open and the Archlord Morovin Lan'Tearin slid in, his movements liquid, unencumbered by his armor. His one good hand held a staff tipped with a multifaceted t'santari crystal.

All conversation between the handful of strategists and generals ceased at his entry, and they held their collective breath until they were sure he was alone. The guards at the doorway pulled the doors shut behind him and he stood framed in the candlelight.

Morovin approached the table, seating himself at it's head and gazing for a moment in silence at the maps arrayed before him, leaning his staff against his chair. Reaching out, he took hold of a map of the area around Zosa and placed it in the center of the table, in plain view of the military personnel. A red dot just east of Zosa indicated the location of their spies.

"Orders from Disciple Seth," Morovin explained. "He wants the troops here," he indicated the red dot with a stab of his finger, "to move now. Northwest, to here." Morovin slid his index finger along the map to a point north of Zosa and described a small circle about a black dot north of the town, labeled simply as 'Myst Vale'. "Meanwhile, I will be mobilizing our troops here. The Disciple wants everything in motion now." Morovin leaned back in his chair and regard the military staff with half-lidded eyes. "Go!" he snapped angrily. Within a moment the room had emptied completely.

* * *

Narrel was pleased that Rachel didn't explode at Morgan's mild barb, only bristled a little. The young woman circled Morgan in the same predatory way she had earlier circled Rachel, but unlike Rachel, Morgan's eyes betrayed no emotion other then amusement.

"Well, child? What is it you want?" Morgan's eyes sparkled with inner laughter. "I certainly hope you have a good reason for disturbing me."

"I don't need one," Rachel snapped, and Narrel flinched. Don't let her get under your skin, he thought to himself. "You're a prisoner here, Morgan."

Morgan turned her head to regard Rachel with an arched eyebrow. "Don't delude yourself, girl. Morovin will come for me."

"What killed Kyra Tierney?"

"I understand it was the Black Energy Wave," Morgan replied condescendingly. "But Sealed as I am, my magical sensitivities are slightly…dulled, shall we say."

"Stop beating around the bush. You know what Morovin's up too."

"Of course I do. We formulated our plans far into the future. I'm aware of all his plans and every contingency. I could tell you where he is, right now, and what he's doing. What's he's planning and what he's accomplished. Anything you want to know."

"What are your plans?"

Morgan's lips came together in a fine line. "Unfolding, child, unfolding."

* * *

He could feel the warmth of the firepits stirring in the rocks beneath him, warming his vast body. He closed his eyes and rested it against the warm stone, extending his sense down into the heart of his home, and letting the pathways of his mind flow with the river of magma that pulsed deep below the surface. Hot enough to warm, but not to destroy. It had been perfect. The only place of warmth on a planet of barren cold.

How long ago had he come here, and found the warmth? How long since he had brought his people here to dwell? It was hard to dwell on the past, so far away…Youth was nothing but a dream.

He shifted his wings against his side, and his feathers brushing against his fur brought every eye in the gallery below him onto his body. He smiled faintly but said nothing. His children worried about him so.

His children worried him, as well. He remembered, vaguely, a time long ago-but not so long ago as his youth-that there had been…a blight. Yes. With remembrance of the blight came remembrance of that man, with the strange light and the face that flickered at the edge of his consciousness whenever he closed his eyes.

But there had been so many faces…

The blight. Yes, the blight had come and harmed his children…left them barren and infertile. In the time that had passed since that familiar man had come, only one child had been born, and that child had almost grown into adulthood.

He opened one eye and scanned the gallery, and as always was drawn to the faint white light that child gave off. It was a light that he could see, and he alone…That he knew, but he did not remember who had told him so, or who had taught him the technique of seeing beyond physical forms, into the very weave of destiny itself. It put him in mind of the familiar man and those he had traveled with…Had they shown him the sight or had they themselves emitted that faint white glow? So hard to remember, anymore…

The child turned and glanced in his direction, not seeming to catch his gaze. He allowed his eyes to slide shut, blocking out the faint white light, but the face of the child remained burned into his eyelids-that one, distinctive face. Then the face was gone, replaced by other faces, other people.

There had been so many faces…

He opened his eyes and the light returned. There was something that had to be done, something that had be said…duty. Yes. Duty. It was time.

* * *

A new sense of urgency bubbled into Rachel at Morgan's words. She could almost feel Narrel's tension. He had never been good at hiding his emotions from her…

She shook off Kyra's memories with a faint shudder and turned her attention back to Morgan.

"What do you mean by 'unfolding', Morgan?"

Morgan laughed and turned away, then sat back down in the chair she had been in when they entered. "Just that, child. Just that. Unfolding."

"Can't you just speak plainly?"

"I am speaking plainly, child. You just aren't willing to do what's necessary to find out my meaning." Morgan turned, leaning on the arm of the chair, her eyes burning with a dark intensity. "Take what you need from me, girl. You know the spells and you have the power. Take what you want if you desire it so badly."

* * *

There weren't that many places to go in the Vale, aside from the outer tunnels, where a person went only at their own risk. Since Myrelle was really too small-he had always been more lithe and slender then large-to go hunting the beasts that were drawn to the Vale's warmth, he was left essentially with the Old One's gallery and plateau where all the farming was done. Now that the worst of the winter storms had hit, and at full fury, no farming was done on the plateau's at all. There was enough food stored in the inner cave, just beyond the gallery, to see the Vale's population beyond the winter.

So Myrelle was left with only the gallery to spend his days. And since it was a rare occasion that the Old One ever spoke, and there was no one even approaching his age to talk to, Myrelle had grown into a rather solitary person.

He'd heard recently that Gerain and his lifemate Lennara had succeeded in conception and that Lennara was due to give birth soon, and, considering the rarity of birth since the Redemption, that was good news, but Myrelle wasn't prepared to latch onto a kit simply for the sake of companionship.

Myrelle's mother had died giving birth to him, and his father had been slain by a Dezo Penguin that had slipped beyond the guards at doorway when he was just a kit. Most of the Musk Cats in the Vale were getting on in years and didn't really know how to deal with the child, so Myrelle had been passed from family to family until he had become of an age to live on his own. He had never lacked for care, just attention.

Myrelle stayed near the back of the gallery and worked his way around the edge, scanning the gallery. As his gaze flickered past the old one he saw one of those massive green eyes slide shut. It was rare enough for the Old One to move at all. Myrelle examined the rear wall of the gallery until he found a place were a small outcropping of rock created a nook in the wall. Myrelle lay down within the nook, where he was mostly concealed, pressing his flank against the wall for warmth. The rock here was thinner then other in other places, the magma of the firepits nearer. It was the warmest place in the Vale. Soon, lulled by the warmth, he began to drift asleep.

"Myrelle eragae Jemindor eragai Loraon." The Old One's voice boomed through the gallery with more force then his normal lethargy would indicate. At the sound of his name, Myrelle snapped fully awake and jumped to his feet, painfully pinching his tail between the roof of the nook and his hindquarters. He barely concealed a yelp of pain as he emerged from his nook. "Come here."

His heart beating double time in his chest, Myrelle moved forward, the suddenly silent crowd of his people parting before him like the tide.

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