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Chapter Sixteen

As Rolf and Shir finished their journey through the Crevice and stepped onto the Alplatin Plateau, they spoke for the first time since leaving Skure.

"Rolf," Shir said, turning her head to look into his eyes as they continued walking, "I'm scared."

"About what?" Rolf asked, looking back at Shir.

"Everything. About going to Noah again. About facing D'zkot. All of it."

Rolf didn't know what to say, so he just nodded. He could lie to her and say everything would be all right, but he honestly didn't know if it would be. And he could tell her not to be afraid, but deep inside, he was scared, too.

As they reached Esper Mansion, the doors swung open to allow them in. Lutz must be feeling better, Rolf thought with a smile.

[I am. Much better. Hello, Shir. It is good to see you again.]

Lutz came up the stairs next to his throne and smiled at Rolf and Shir. "It's good to see you, too, Lutz," Shir greeted back. She and Rolf walked forward to meet the Esper, but Lutz remained standing near his throne.

[Shir, if you wouldn't mind, I require Rolf's presence for a few moments. Would you excuse us?] Lutz raised an eyebrow at the Thief.

"Yes, of course," Shir nodded in return. "I guess this is some more of that Esper stuff I'm going to have to get used to."

Rolf followed Lutz back down the stairs into the room that housed his hibernation chamber. {I have much to tell you, Lutz.} He prepared to tell Lutz everything about Alis and the secret New Order base in Skure, but before he could begin, he realized that Lutz was walking straight towards a brick wall.

"Hey, Lutz--!" he called aloud.

Lutz reached out with his mind and the wall moved aside, revealing a secret chamber behind it. Without missing a step, Lutz continued walking forward and entered the dark chamber. Once Rolf, too, was inside the hidden corridor, the door closed behind them.

They continued walking, their way lit by torches that lined the walls. The torches would flare up whenever Lutz approached them, and once Rolf had passed them, they would die down again.

[Do not tell me in words] Lutz began. [But use your powers to open your mind to me, and allow your story to flow out in images. It is a much faster and much more efficient way of communication.]

Rolf was so mesmerized by this secret passage and the magic torches that for a moment he had no idea what Lutz was talking about. Then he remembered, and tried to do as Lutz told him. It all came flowing out: the assault on the Central Tower, his visit with Alis, and the discovery of D'zkot's communications base and his hidden secrets.

When Rolf finished telling his story, he looked to Lutz for a response. He got none, at least not right away. All Lutz did was come to a halt. There was lots of corridor behind them and still lots in front, but Lutz just looked to the nearest torch to his right, and used his mind to pull it slightly away from the wall. As he did so, Rolf heard a soft rumbling, not unlike the sound the wall made when it opened to reveal this secret hallway back in Lutz's hibernation room. Only this time, Rolf couldn't see any walls moving aside to reveal another secret passage.

Once the rumbling stopped, Lutz continued walking forward. Then, after a few steps, he was sinking into the floor and turning back the way he had come, before turning around once again in the direction they were heading.

Shaking his head at the mansion's secrets, Rolf, too, descended the secret spiral stairway. At the stairway's landing, Rolf and Lutz found themselves at a four-way intersection, with corridor stretching out as far as the eye could see (which, due to the darkness, wasn't all that far) in all directions. Still knowing exactly where he was going, Lutz turned to his left and pressed on. Rolf followed, but he finally couldn't take the secrecy anymore. {Where are you taking me?}

[To Esper Mansion's most closely guarded secret.] They walked several more steps, torches coming to life upon their approach and dying out upon their departure, before Lutz finally responded to all Rolf had told him. [You're right. You must go to Noah once again. The Abomination must be stopped.]

{You mean D'zkot.}

[That's what I said.]

{Why do you call him 'The Abomination'?}

Lutz spun on his heels. Rolf, not expecting the sudden move, barely stopped in time to avoid a collision. As it was, he stood right in Lutz's face. "Because that is what he is!" Lutz yelled aloud, his usually calm demeanor erupting in fury.

Rolf was more than a bit stunned at the uncharacteristic outburst. "Why?" he finally asked in return.

"Because Dezorians do not have telemental abilities. At least, not anymore."

This last intrigued Rolf greatly, but Lutz acted as though he regretted saying it. He continued his walk down the hall. Rolf followed, pressing on for answers.

{What do you mean, 'not anymore'?}

[Centuries ago] Lutz began with the mental equivalent of a sigh in his voice [lived a special group of Protectors whose duty was to guard Algo every 1000 years from the threat of Dark Force. These Protectors were known as the Desans, and they consisted of representatives from all three races: Palman, Motavian, and Dezorian.]

{What happened to them?}

[2000 years ago, they fought Dark Force for the one-hundredth time in their history. But for the first time, Dark Force won. The Desans did manage to kill Dark Force, but not before he had eliminated them from Algo entirely, save for one Palman Desan, who joined mainstream society for the first time with no memory of his Desan heritage.]

{So, I take it that the Espers were spawned from this last Desan.}

[That is correct.]

{Then it seems to me like it would be a great thing if the Dezorian Desans were reappearing again.}

Lutz once again stopped and turned to face Rolf. "Let us get something straight. The Desans were guardians. More than that, they were Protectors. D'zkot is an insane madman. No telemental has ever used his abilities for evil, until him. So you can see, he has rightfully earned the title I have given him: Abomination."

"But that's not what you said at first," Rolf pointed out. "You said he was an abomination because he was Dezorian."

Lutz stared into Rolf's eyes for a long moment. Rolf did not flinch and returned the stare. "So what are you trying to say?" Lutz asked at last. "That I was wrong to try and kill D'zkot before he could bring about his plan for Mota's destruction?"

"Of course not," Rolf answered. "D'zkot is insane, and he must be stopped. But I don't think the idea of a Dezorian wielding telemental abilities is a bad one. In fact, though I've just learned of the Desans, I think it would be wonderful for Algo if they were restored to the numbers they once had."

[And you think I am arrogant for wishing telemental abilities to stay with the Espers and the Espers only?]

{There is that. You can read my mind, so there's no use in denying it.}

Lutz nodded. [Yes. That is one of the first things you must learn when you first begin to manifest your abilities. Noah taught it to me many, many years ago. You have learned it on your own.] Lutz looked inside himself for a moment, took a deep breath. [This is a matter which we should save for a future discussion. Just remember that you still have much to learn.]

"I know," Rolf said aloud.

[But for now, someone wants to see you.] Lutz closed his eyes and moved his lips in a silent chant. A moment later, a powerful buzzing filled the air in the hallway. Rolf's eyes widened in wonder as a stairway began to materialize in the middle of the corridor that was empty only a moment before. As Lutz slowly opened his eyes, the stairway had become fully materialized, and at the top was a door.

Lutz smiled and motioned Rolf to step up to the door. He did so, taking careful, hesitant steps. Halfway up, the stairs turned left and aimed towards the side wall of the corridor. At the top, the hidden door beckoned.

Rolf opened the door, entered, and closed it behind him. He was in a room that seemed very long and was lit only by a small glow at the far side. After taking only a few steps, he had traversed the distance which had seemed so lengthy a moment before, and saw that the glow came from a sword that rested on an altar.

The Esper Agent picked up the sword and examined it. It was not very heavy, but when he flicked his finger against the metal, he found it to be very, very strong. Laconia, he realized. This sword is made of Laconia.

Suddenly, the sword began to glow brighter. A little afraid, Rolf set it back down on the altar. The glow continued to grow brighter and brighter. Rolf took a step back, then several balls of light shot out of the sword and floated in the air above it. All of the light-spheres, save one, then moved backwards, behind the sword and seemingly very far from where Rolf stood, though he had already found that size could be very deceiving in this room.

The final light-sphere continued towards Rolf, and as it got closer it began to take on a new shape. It stretched out vertically until its shape was that of an extremely elongated oval. Then, as Rolf watched, entranced, the oval began to take the shape of a person.

He saw a lithe and agile body take shape as long hair grew from the head. Soon after that, long yellow ears rose out of the hair, which had now taken on a purple color. Awestruck, Rolf could only smile as he began to recognize the brightness before him. A moment later, and the brightness had been reduced to a glow that surrounded the figure before him like an aura.

And then Nei was there, in the same room, right in front of Rolf... and she was smiling.

"Nei," Rolf whispered. Waves of happiness overtook him. This was not some illusion; she was there, and she was real, and when she spoke, her voice confirmed it.

"Hello, Rolf," she greeted. "I'm so very glad to see you again, my brother."

"My sister," Rolf beamed back.

"Rolf, I don't have much time. I wish I did," Nei said, the regret evident in her voice. Rolf looked down and saw she was even wearing her favorite sandals. "But I've asked Lutz to bring you to Elsydeon for a very important reason."

Rolf looked around the room, remembering Alis's last words to him. "This is Elsydeon?" he asked.

"No," Nei shook her head. She pointed to the sword on the altar behind her. "That is Elsydeon. It channels the souls of all of Algo's Protectors. In it, we live forever."

This caught Rolf's attention very quickly. "What do you mean... 'live forever'?"

"I mean just what I said, Rolf." She let out a short giggle, but then got serious again. "Rolf, for the last year you have been tortured by three plagues in your mind. The first was your guilt over the destruction of Palm. Alis--" She motioned to one of the floating light-spheres behind her. "--helped you overcome that. But the second plague is that you've never been able to overcome my death. You've never come to accept it."

"How can I?" Rolf demanded. "You were taken long before your time."

"All of us are taken when our time comes, Rolf. There is no such thing as being taken too soon. This is what I want you to realize. Don't think of me as dead, Rolf, because here I am. I'm not dead! I've just left the physical world behind. That shell--" She pointed at Rolf's body. "--is only there to house you through your infancy. A whole new, strange, wonderful world awaits you beyond. I await you."

"You mean..." Rolf began, his mind opening to ideas he'd never considered before. "You mean I didn't lose you forever? We'll be together again someday?"

Nei smiled. "Of course, Rolf. We're together now, aren't we?"

"But you said this is only for a short time. Will we be together forever?"

"Yes."

"Promise?" Rolf asked.

"I know," Nei answered. "Your birth was not just some random twist of fate. You were put here for a reason. Now, you just have to go out and find out what that reason is."

"Can't you tell me?"

"No," Nei smiled. "We all have to learn our destinies for ourselves. And you'll learn yours, Rolf."

Rolf smiled at her again. "Promise?"

Nei nodded and returned the smile. "I know. I know."

- - - - - - - - - -

Shir had to do a double-take at Rolf when he came striding up the stairs behind Lutz's throne, back into the main entrance chamber of Esper Mansion. She had seen the change that had overtaken him after their visit with Alis, but she could tell that something new had happened. Something more. He almost -- almost -- looks like the friend I knew growing up, Shir thought. With the thought, a beautiful smile pasted itself on her face.

Rolf strode towards the doors of Esper Mansion. Shir had to walk double-time to catch up, and she barely had time to throw a wave over her shoulder to Lutz before they were back out on the Alplatin Plateau and walking towards the entrance to the Crevice.

"Rolf, what happened?" she asked. "Something great has happened. Now come on, spit it out."

He stopped, took in a lung full of bitterly cold air, and smiled at Shir through the fog he exhaled. "I just talked to Nei," he beamed. "I was just with my sister!"

Shir's face momentarily fell dead with surprise, but then a smile slowly spread out across it. "Wow!" she finally exclaimed, after searching for the words. "I don't know if I'll ever get used to this Esper stuff."

They both laughed and continued walking again, but there was still something nagging at Shir from deep inside. "Rolf," she said hesitantly, her smile transformed into a straight line, "I'm still scared."

"Don't be," Rolf told her, completely unafraid himself. "Yes, we are heading into a dangerous situation. But D'zkot's mad scheme will not succeed. We will be victorious."

Rolf's newfound confidence and enthusiasm was contagious. Her smile returned, and she even managed a laugh before she asked, "Promise?"

"I know, Shir. I know."

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