Author's Note: While you really don't have to read any of my
stories to get this one, Noah's theory about Alis's sword-skills was
developed from Ngangbius' impression of her in "A Light In The
Darkness" and the reasons why Noah knows the name Lashiec are given in
"Shadowplay." *end plug*
Arena, was Alis' first reaction to the chamber beyond the
doors. A great obsidian vault, with no furniture, no decoration,
nothing but bare walls and floors of jet-black hue. The radiance from
the magic lamp Odin wore was barely enough to let her know there
were walls; the illusion of being plunged into a dark pool, of
floating in a starless night sky was almost perfect.
It's almost like... The thought nagged at the back of her
mind, memory teasing her but not finding a home, not yet.
Then it began to take shape. It emerged from the darkness,
fading into existence, first as an insubstantial outline, then as
overwhelming, terror-inspiring physical reality.
The thing was huge, towering at least twice Odin's height. Its
lower body remained unseen, fading away into the dark, while its arms
were grossly disproportionate, at least nine feet long, massively
muscled, ending in clawed hands that could wrap fully around a Palman
body. Though humanoid in shape, much of its body was covered in
chitinous armor like an insect's exoskeleton. As for its face...
I know that face!
Memory locked into place for Alis. They'd spent one night at the
Governor of Motavia's mansion, beneath which they now stood. During
that night, she and her companions had experienced a shared dream in
which they had been fighting a demonic entity. The saccubus, the
dream-demon, had looked like this thing's face!
In the dream, the companions had all died horrible deaths. Had that
been a premonition of this battle?
"The legend..." whispered the wizard Noah. "The One Who Comes With
Myau, the Musk Cat, snarled and hissed, the fur on its back standing
up. Transformed after eating a Laerma nut, Myau was huge, six feet
tall at the shoulder, but this monstrosity had a force to it that was
more than simple physical size that left Myau reacting as if he was
still a sixty-pound feline.
"What is this thing?" Odin, the warrior, asked incredulously.
"It has no name," Noah said. "It is evil made flesh, the corrupter
and the destroyer. Espers call it Dark Force, for that is its nature."
"Lovely." Never one for drama, Odin raised his laser gun and shot
the thing. The energy bolt crashed off its armored shoulder in a
shower of sparks.
Dark Force just laughed.
"You would fight me?" he roared. "You were barely
capable of destroying my pawn--a weak little fool who let his fear of
death overcome his ambition. Do you think that the Governor assisted
you in finding one another by accident? That one is mine, body and
soul, nothing but a puppet. I wanted to make Lashiec act by
giving him someone to fear, and if that would not suffice, then you
would teach him a sorely needed lesson. When I rouse his spirit again
to serve my needs, he will be more attentive to his duties."
The monstrosity cackled.
"Now your quest is complete. Lay down your weapons and submit if
you wish to live, or throw away your useless lives if you prefer. It
matters naught to me."
Alis wavered. She couldn't help it; she'd given everything she had
to finish what her brother Nero had started, to destroy the tyrant
Lassic. She'd abandoned being an ordinary girl to learn weaponcraft
and magic. Armor, not pretty dresses, were the clothes she considered
in the morning. And the killing...monsters, unquiet spirits, and
Lassic's robots were bad enough, but the Dezorian terrorists, the
barbaric native Motavians, the magically augmented warriors of the
Do you really want to kill an old man? That had been Lassic's
question, and the answer had been a defiant "Yes!" It had been so
easy--whatever it took to fight Lassic, she would do. Now, with the
tyrant dead and gone, she had to ask herself if it had been worth the
cost. When I die, will I be able to face Nero? Or will he just see
as bloody a butcher as Lassic?
She didn't see the glowing pits that were the demon's sunken eyes
glow brighter as her spirit flagged.
And after all that, to know I was doing this blasphemy's
The point of her black-bladed laconian sword dipped. The thorns in
relief on the hilt were designed to give a surer grip, but they seemed
to be piercing Alis' hand, a taste of her penance.
Then a miracle happened.
It was not a miracle of fire and light, not the kind preached about
in church. This was a small miracle, a tiny miracle, though Myau would
later remark that it had probably been more difficult to achieve than
parting the seas or sending pillars of flame.
For the first time Alis could remember, Odin and Noah's minds came
to the exact same conclusion at the same time. Odin's gun and Noah's
crystal-tipped wand rose in unison.
"Eat this, worm-bait!"
Lasers and magical wind drilled into the demon, knocking it back
Some would scoff at the idea that this was a miracle, but not Alis.
For seeing the two men, so different in every way besides their
dedication to her quest, act together as one made Alis laugh at the
sight, and laugh again at how absurd her own reaction was. Here we
are, faced with the ultimate evil, and I'm giggling at my friends'
And laughter was the best antidote to despair.
"If Lassic was your pawn," she snapped, her sword coming up again,
"then whatever he did can be laid at your door! Our
battle is not finished until you are destroyed!"
She charged, trying to get within range, hurling a ball of flame as
she did. Now, though, the demon reacted. It had ignored Odin and
Noah's attacks, but when Alis joined the fight it responded.
"You miserable, cretinous fools. Die, then!" Dark Force's
hideous, fanged maw open and comets of fire spewed out at the heroes.
Alis barely got her laconian shield up in time to block two, but the
force of the explosions numbed her arm even through her defenses.
She slashed at the demon, and was rewarded when the keen edge of her
blade struck open chitin and midnight-blue flesh, drawing a gout of
black ichor. Roaring in anger, it breathed a gout of pure darkness at
her. Odin and Noah's continued sniping from long range threw off its
aim somewhat, and again Alis was able to block with her shield, but she
was knocked sprawling by the wave of black energy.
I need a better defense against its magic, she thought, even
as Myau hurled himself at the monster. His claws raked uselessly
against its armored torso, but a twist of his head sank one of the
Silver Fang's blades deep into the beast's shoulder. Dark Force howled
in pain, and its massive hands seized the cat's flanks just below his
forelegs. Its talons pierced Myau's thick fur, drawing rivulets of
blood as it pulled him away. Myau kicked and squirmed, but the demon
held him fast.
Alis dropped her shield and pulled the four-foot-long crystal rod
Damor had given her from its sling across her back. The soothsayer's
crystal had been effective against Lassic's magic, and Dark Force was
the source of that power, so it might also help now. She felt her skin
tingle warmly, could see the pale blue aura that limned her body.
Dark Force roared again as Noah's wind spell tore at him once more.
With titanic force, he hurled Myau against the obsidian wall, and Alis
heard the snap of bone. Odin holstered his gun and pulled out his
heavy, double-bitted laconian axe. The mystic weapon was possibly the
most powerful fighting tool in all of Algo, though it might be
difficult to bring it into play.
"Enough of your tricks, Esper!" the demon shouted at Noah as he
rained thunder down upon it. Dark Force's foreclaws carved an
intricate rune in the air, and the outlines of Noah's
body...rippled, as if reality itself was being distorted. The
shock was obviously too much for him to withstand; he slumped to the
floor. Whether he was unconscious or dead, Alis couldn't say.
"Come at him from two sides, Alis," Odin urged her. It was good
advice; the beast was too big to easily cope with multiple directions
of attack. Its magic, though, was another story. Again the
fire-comets spat, some turning on Alis and others towards Odin. Alis
grinned as she parried with the crystal rod, easily deflecting the
blasts with little effort. Odin grunted in pain as two fireballs
detonated against his laconian armor, but he did not stop. His axe
hacked open the chitinous armor on the monster's left arm while Alis'
slender blade pierced its side.
Dark Force's scream was deafening. The weapons of laconia were
hurting it! Alis ripped her blade free for another stroke, but never
got the chance. The demon roared again, and the world went mad. Up
and down lost their meaning and the universe dissolved into a swirl of
stars in which Dark Force, Odin, and Alis herself were the only fixed
points. Gouts of black energy spat from the creature's body, flying
outwards in all directions.
Had Noah been conscious, he could have identified the demon's spell
as one that opened another gateway to the place where it had come from,
sucking the pure, raw black energy of that dimension through and
spewing it into Algo's world. Alis didn't know that. All she could
tell was that Odin was being repeatedly pummeled by the energy and even
she was taking blows, though the crystal was stopping much of the
When at last the gate closed and the obsidian arena was again
visible, Odin was laying senseless and Alis had been staggered by the
attack. When Dark Force saw her still on her feet, it realized that
its magic was having little effect on her, so it simply drew back its
titanic arm and backhanded her with the force of a charging mammoth.
Alis flew one way; her black sword went the other. She hit the ground
hard, knocking the breath out of her despite her armor, and the loud
clash of shattering crystal told her that Damor's gift had struck the
night-dark floor with more force than it could endure. A glance at it
told Alis that about six inches had been snapped off, leaving a jagged
end of crystalline teeth. With it, she realized, had gone its
protective spells; the aura had faded.
Dark Force's laughter echoed throughout the room.
"So these are the Protectors of Algo. Hardly worth my time!"
Alis all but wept. Odin and Noah were down, perhaps even dead; Myau
was conscious but could not even rise, let alone fight. As for her,
she had no weapon, and her fire magic was hardly going to be effective
where Noah's much more powerful spells had not. Still, she'd had her
fill of despair. She used the crystal to push herself to her feet. If
the demon was going to kill her, then let it try. She wasn't going to
make it any easier. So long as she was alive, she would hope for
At that moment, she heard Myau's soft purr, and a golden light
seemed to flow through her veins, bringing strength and life. The Musk
Cat's magic, to give power to its companions, surged brightly inside
It wouldn't last long. One chance, maybe. No more; she wouldn't
live much longer than that.
Alis screamed, pouring all of her energy, all of her inner strength
into one titanic effort, and hurled the crystal. Spearlike, the broken
end punched through the demon's armor and buried itself between Dark
Force's eyes, transfixing its head.
This time, there was no scream. Dark Force's body seemed to lock
into place, and then its skin began to crack and flake away, melting
into that black ichor, which in turn dissolved into a stinking vapor
that rapidly faded from the air.
"It's gone," she said with relief. She could feel its
absence, like a miasma lifted from her soul. Alis looked up at the
vault's domed ceiling, seeing not a flat surface of volcanic rock but
the endless expanse of the night sky.
"It's over, Nero. This time, your soul really can be at
* * * * *
They were all right, of course. It wouldn't have been a happy
ending if Odin or Noah had died. Even the Governor seemed to have
shaken off the effects of being possessed body and soul by Dark Force.
Well enough, at least, to drop the bombshell that Alis was none other
than Princess Alisa Landale, heiress to the throne Lassic had claimed.
And since the tyrant was dead and the missing princess found all at the
same time, there was only one thing left to do.
It was lucky that the Governor's mansion was as large at it was,
because it was one heck of a big party. Since she was the center of
attention, Alis endured the first two hours of it with forbearance, but
eventually the pressure of being at the eye of the storm grew too much
for the heroine--she was, after all, still only fifteen--and eventually
she wandered out onto one of the many balconies for some fresh air.
Motavia was a desert planet, and while the days were scorching, the
night breeze was crisp and cool.
"Finding your newfound fame difficult, my princess?"
Alis spun, surprised by the soft voice. It was Noah, who always
startled her by the way he could move as quietly as...well, as quietly
"Please, Noah, I know you're just kidding, but...well, I just don't
need to hear that from you."
The Esper raised one delicate blue eyebrow.
"If it bothers you so much, why did you decide that you would claim
"Someone has to."
Noah chuckled softly.
"At the risk of sounding like Odin, I have to say that I
almost followed that."
Alis smiled back.
"Lassic all but ruined Palma. The army and police became
instruments of fear, he cut off trade, he herded the people into
cities, and he reduced the technology level in the outlying areas to a
pre-industrial stage. His death leaves a huge power vacuum and a lot
of needy people. I'm the daughter of King Marek Landale, the
legitimate heir, and the one who killed Lassic. If I say
'follow me and do what I tell you,' the people will. Otherwise, there
will be regional conflicts, squabbling over limited resources, probably
even war. If I don't take the crown as Queen Alisa III,
Lassic's evil will go on and on."
"I believe I understand."
"Good, because one speech is all you get to hear!"
He leaned on the railing next to her. They looked out into the city
of Paseo, watching the multicolored lights and hearing the music. The
party wasn't just at the Governor's mansion; it was a carnival that
consumed the whole town, probably the whole system.
"Noah?" Alis said after a while.
"Why did it work? Damor's crystal, I mean. Why did it kill Dark
Force? It broke when it hit the floor, but it pierced Dark Force's
armor, which not even Odin's laser could scratch."
"Do you want the truth or my opinion?"
"I don't know."
"Silly! Let's hear your opinion, then."
He smiled enigmatically at her.
The soon-to-be-queen wondered if it would be acceptable to pitch the
Esper off the balcony.
"Noah, just how much neimila have you had?" she asked bluntly.
"I apologize," he said, a serious look dropping into place again.
"I did mean what I said, though. Damor was one of the most skilled
Espers of the previous generation, and he spent a dozen years or more
turning that crystal into something that would deflect Lashiec's new
"Lashiec? Dark Force called him that, too."
"It's his apprentice-name. No doubt Dark Force gave it to him when
he entered its service, just like Master Tajim called me Noah when I
began studying under him."
"I see; he never called himself that in public because he was the
king and no one would understand why he changed it."
"Since Lassic's magic came from Dark Force, the crystal was, in
essence, made to fight it. You figured that out yourself or you'd
never have tried it in the fight. When the crystal broke, the main
spells were shattered, but you can't put that much power into something
without changing it on a more fundamental level. Then you went and put
even more power into it."
"I did?" Alis asked, bewildered.
"Yes. You are an Esper, after all."
"True, but I didn't cast any spells."
"You didn't consciously cast any spells."
Alis turned to her friend curiously.
"Noah, what do you mean?"
"If you don't mind me being a bit circuitous, it has to do with your
swordsmanship. You're a master swordswoman, Alis, more effective in
combat that even Odin, but the only training you've ever had is what
we've given you during the quest. No one is that good based on
natural instincts alone, especially not compared to someone like Odin,
who is one of the best fighters I've ever known. There is, however,
The wizard laced his slender fingers together.
"You've probably heard in stories how skilled warriors can perform
incredible feats by drawing upon their 'inner strength' or something
similar. What they are really doing is drawing upon the latent magic
in their environment. What you do is much like that, only you use your
own power as an Esper, and do it all the time without realizing it."
Alis gave him an odd look.
"I'm doing magic in battle"
"Your subconscious mind is, yes. The two emotions most associated
with you, Alis, are hope and determination. You don't back down, and
you don't give up in the face of anything. That emotion is very
likely made even stronger by your age, as adolescence is a time of
great passion and dedication that we generally lose as we get older. I
believe that when you enter battle, your subconscious broadcasts that
hope as a psychic aura. Your enemies feel that aura and become scared,
less confident, more hesitant, while we fighting alongside you gain
strength and courage from it."
"Noah, are you sure about this?"
"Quite sure. You are a telemental, though only an unconscious one.
I possess telemental ability myself, though I haven't yet developed it,
so I'm sensitive to the effects of telementalism around me. It didn't
take long to realize what was occurring."
Alis shook her head in amazement. She'd never realized any of this.
"When you threw the crystal, you also poured all of your magic into
it. I could feel the traces when I picked it up. There were even bits
of Myau's spell dragged in."
"But why did that make the crystal strong enough to breach Dark
Force's armor? Even I know that a magic weapon is limited by what you
make it from."
"Well, there are spells that can strengthen something's physical
structure, but there were none of those on the crystal. If you'd hit
Lashiec with it, it would have broken, but Dark Force doesn't have a
body, not truly."
He smiled at her shell-shocked expression.
"It doesn't eat, it doesn't sleep, it doesn't mate, there's nothing
about it that ties it to a body. It is pure magic and will in its
natural state. It only incarnates itself in order to use that
power. Once incarnated, it can be killed." He smiled thinly at her
once more. "At least, that is my theory."
"I get it!" Alis said. "Since it builds its body from magic, and
since the crystal was designed to dispel that magic, the crystal can
cut through its flesh!"
"Exactly. I think," he amended.
Noah rubbed his fingertip idly along the balustrade.
"Alis, could I keep Damor's crystal?"
"Yes, I guess so. Why?"
"Your use of it gave me an idea. The combination of bits and pieces
of spells within it could never have been duplicated purposefully, and
with the addition of strengthening spells so that it wouldn't break
every time it hit something hard, it would make a very interesting
weapon. I've never seen anything that adapts to magic quite like it."
From out in the desert, there came a high-pitched whine, and a
streak of light shot up in the air and detonated in a shower of green
sparks. Another followed in brilliant blue, then pink, and then the
fireworks had begun in earnest. Alis looked up, rapt at their beauty,
and all at once she realized that they were for her--the whole
celebration was because the people were joyous about what she'd done.
For once, she didn't think of the responsibility, she didn't think
about what Lassic had done, she didn't think about the work that
remained in the future, she didn't even think about Nero. For the
first time, she looked up at the exultant bursts of light and realized
that she, Alis Landale, had achieved something that an entire city,
maybe even an entire race, felt was a cause for celebration.
And you know what? It's about time I celebrated it, too!
She grabbed the Esper's hand, cutting short whatever he was saying
about turning Damor's crystal into a magic sword.
"Come on, Noah! This is supposed to be a party, so let's dance!"
And with that, Alis dragged the wizard back into the lights and
music of the ballroom.