[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Chapter Three

Nine Months Later
Space Century 352.02

Mota's Agents were some of the most versatile and highly-trained specialists in the entire Algo Star System. They were investigators, police, and, if need be, fighters, but more than that, they were simply soldiers of Mota. They answered to the Commander of Mota (who also acted as head of the Paseo Council) and no matter what kind of mission the commander sent them on, they were prepared to do it, even if it meant risking or giving their lives.

Several of them were now gathered along with about thirty civilian government employees in one of their large office spaces in the city of Paseo's Central Tower, which had just finished being rebuilt after being decimated by D'zkot's Rebels one year before. On this day, however, these highly trained servants of Mota, usually able to remain focused and in control even it the hottest battle situations, found it hard to concentrate on simple paperwork. All they could think a bout was that a very special visitor was in the building, and that very soon he would be...

"He's here!" an Agent named Peter shouted to the others as he burst into the office space. "They're coming, everyone! Get ready!"

All of the Agents and other employees stood from their desks and faced the door Peter had just barged in through. Uniforms were quickly straightened and loose strands of hair were pushed back into place. "How close?" asked another Agent, this one named Gwen, as she came up to stand next to Peter near the office space's doors.

"Should be-- now," Peter said, and that's when the doors were pushed aside and the special guest, the new ruler of the distant planet Dezo, entered the room along with the Commander of Mota.

Their names were Bishop Jut and Rudolf "Rudo" Steiner.

Both of the planetary leaders were tall, but Bishop Jut beat out Commander Steiner by about a half-inch. Jut's height, however, was exaggerated by his tall, elegant kem'pallah -- the hat that he and all other Dezorians wore to denote their place in Dezo's caste system. Underneath the kem'pallah, Jut's skin was a light green, and his eyes, though solidly black, had an inner light shining from behind them that could not be restrained.

As for Rudo, he now wore the the Commander's uniform, rather than a Hunter's or an Agent's, but as he looked across his assembled Agents with his thin blue eyes, his hair was still cropped extremely close, despite the fact that he'd been out of the Army for almost three years now.

Also, just as Bishop Jut smiled because he was happy to be visiting Mota's capital, Rudo smiled, as well, because he was happy that times and Algo's interplanetary relations had changed to the point where the leader of Mota could not only speak with Dezo's leader, but give him a tour of the Central Tower, to boot. It was an extraordinary transformation that even ten years prior would have been called impossible.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Rudo addressed the assembled crowd, "I have the honor of introducing you to Bishop Jut of Dezo." Peter, Gwen, and the others in the room applauded on cue, and their admiration for the smiling green-skinned man was genuine. Jut did not just seem like an excellent head of state; compared to Dezo's past laders, he seemed like a downright saint.

One year before, a mad telemental Dezorian named Commander D'zkot -- who also happened to be Dezo's second-in-command, or Sinc'tekkan -- had assassinated Dezo's Pai'tekkan (leader), General K'Cren. In the tumultuous days that followed, D'zkot himself became Pai'tekkan and along with his New Order army, he almost succeeded in pulling off a massacre that would have exterminated all life on Mota.

Mota -- and all of Algo, for that matter -- had been defended by the system's current Protector, a man who was not in attendance at the Central Tower on this day. The Protector had faced D'zkot in battle and had won. In the aftermath, with the New Order destroyed and the Pai'tekkan and Sinc'tekkan dead, a civil war had broken out on Dezo, turning its snow fields into battlefields.

The brutal conflict was initially fought only between forces loyal to General K'Cren and those loyal to D'zkot's New Order, but soon, realizing that the leadership void the planet was now experiencing was a once in a lifetime opportunity, many ambitious and power-hungry Dezorians started their own factions. The result was pure anarchy and chaos across Dezo.

However, through it all, the Dezorian church called for peace, and its loudest voice was Bishop Jut of Gumbious Temple.

One of the most basic fuels a war needs to survive is the support of the people. When the people of Dezo finally started to listen to Bishop Jut and the church rather than the leaders of the various factions, the groups found themselves fighting amongst themselves for no real reason. For all intents and purposes, though the fighting continued for a while after, Dezo's civil war ended when the people (rather than the battlefield) chose a winner, and the victor they chose was Bishop Jut.

In the months since then, Jut had found himself the leader of a new theocratic government on Dezo. One of the first tests he faced as Pai'tekkan (an office he soon abolished) was his official response to the planet's newest settlement, the new Palman village called Tyler. Jut stunned everyone when he lead an expedition into the village not to destroy it, but to offer the new colonists whatever assistance the Dezorian government could provide.

The move made jaws drop not just on Dezo, but as far as the office of the Commander of Mota, as well -- an office that Rudolf Steiner had just taken over. During D'zkot's Rebels' attack on the Central Tower one year before, the previous Commander, Hewitt Elod, had sustained massive injuries. He very nearly lost his life. After D'zkot's defeat and after helping Tyler to rescue the colonists stranded aboard the Palman world ship which orbited Dezo, Rudo returned to Paseo to visit Commander Elod and hand in his resignation from the Agency he had only been a member of for about a year. Instead, he'd received a promotion he couldn't refuse.

"I might be alive, thanks to some of the best doctors in the system and a miracle or two," Commander Elod had said to him, "but I'm not fit to lead the government anymore, and since Rolf's off taking care of business on Dezo, that leaves you, Rudo. You have military experience, and you most definitely know all about the big crises we've faced in the last year. You're the best man for the job, and I'll consider it a personal favor if you say yes." How could he have turned it down?

So, instead of leaving government employment behind and starting a new life with his beloved, a former Guardian named Anna Zirski, he found himself the head of the government, running the day-to-day operations of the planet, assigning Agents to new missions, and meeting heads of foreign governments, such as Dezo's. At least I have someone like Bishop Jut to deal with, Rudo had thought to himself, and not someone like, say, the infamous General Ikuto.

On Dezo, Bishop Jut was attempting to make his people less paranoid and fearful of the Palmans. Meanwhile, Rudo was trying to make the residents of Mota see the common Dezorian separate from the evil rulers of the past. Based on the applause Jut was receiving from the crowd here in the Central Tower... So far, so good, Rudo smiled to himself.

"Bishop," Rudo said, directing Jut's attention towards Peter and Gwyn, "I'd like you to meet two of my best Agents, Peter Nacres and Gwyn Binkson."

"It's a pleasure, Bishop," Peter smiled as he shook the smiling Dezorian's hand.

"Then it is all mine," Jut grinned back, clapping Peter on the back as he turned to share a handshake with Gwyn. "Your Agency is a fine organization, and I'm pleased to meet all parts of it."

"Thank you, Bishop," Gwyn replied. Then, as Peter and Gwyn stepped aside, Rudo and Jut proceeded to walk across the office space slowly, so that the Commander of Mota could show off his completely repaired capital building. The display was not lost on Bishop Jut, who, Rudo could tell, was enormously impressed.

"I saw holo-images of the damage, taken right after D'zkot's attack," Jut told Rudo softly before shaking his head, half in astonishment at the destruction he'd seen and half in answer to the question of who could have done such a thing. "Your Central Tower did not look unlike our city of Aukba after the civil wars. But while Aukba has now become mostly abandoned, your Central Tower is flourishing. It's absolutely amazing you've been able to rebuild in just one year."

"It wasn't easy," Rudo conceded, "but I felt it was important for the morale of my people, especially so soon after losing Mother Brain, to show that government would continue, that we would not bow down to terrorists."

The Bishop looked towards Rudo. "I understand your decision to recognize the Guardians as a genuine police force was also popular," he added.

"Yes, it was. I always felt that the Agents should not be burdened with day-to-day criminal activity in the cities. Not that those duties are too good for the Agents, but there's simply much better ways to utilize their abilities and training, especially considering we have a volunteer police force out there that wants the job of protecting the townspeople."

By this time, the two planetary leaders had reached the other end of the office space, where another Agent of Rudo's waited near the doorway with a smile to meet the new Dezorian leader. "Bishop, I'd like to introduce you to Agent Sawa," Rudo said. "Agent Sawa, Bishop Jut of Dezo."

Jut looked at Rudo, his solid-black Dezorian eyes lit up with surprise. "I wasn't aware there were any native Motavians in the Agency!"

"I am the only one," Sawa answered as Jut shook the Agent's blue-furred hand and looked over his red eyes and blue-skinned ears that poked out from the fur on his head. "Commander Steiner asked me to meet you as a representative of the native Motavians. It was an honor I gladly accepted."

"Yes," Bishop Jut chuckled, "that is yet another wonderful accomplishment of your Commander's that I have heard about -- his outreach to the native Motavians, inviting them back to the cities."

"A few have always remained, scattered here and there," Rudo said, "though most fled to the wilderness centuries ago, when Mother Brain first arrived. Now, we want them to come back. They can only add to the grand new community we are going to build."

Jut, grinning, leaned towards Sawa and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "You know, Agent Sawa, for someone who claims he didn't want to be Commander, he sure has some great ideas about how to run this planet, doesn't he?"

"He does, Bishop," Sawa agreed. "I am proud to serve under him."

"As I am to meet you. You honor me with your formal greeting from the Motavian people."

"Err," Rudo interrupted. "Actually, Bishop, Sawa has not made his formal greeting just yet."

"Oh?" Jut blinked, turning back to Sawa. He watched the Motavian take a deep breath before delivering his formal greeting to Dezo's leader... in perfect Dezorian.

"pala, kunsej jut," Sawa began. "je de oonsanveet neK-pala motevee^ujas, je ^ejik Kio motevee^u^oorsed. leenpumje caad de jiitpumde roonbin." Hello, Bishop Jut. I happily welcome you to Mota on behalf of all Motavians. I hope you have enjoyed your stay.

At first, Rudo wasn't sure if Jut was highly impressed or greatly offended. As Sawa finished his short sentences, the Bishop simply stared, open-mouthed, at the Motavian Agent. He stood that way for what seemed like ten seconds or more. Glancing at Sawa, Rudo caught a concerned look in his big red eyes, as well as a subtle rippling of his blue fur that seemed to say, I hope I didn't just destroy relations between our cultures.

Rudo cleared his throat, trying to think of something to say, but before he could find the words--

Jut broke out laughing.

His laughter was loud and joyous, and he quickly took a step forward and clamped both of his hands around one of Sawa's, shaking the blue-furred paw profusely.

"de ^ejik duTorus^oor buvikvaa! de ^ejik duTorus^oor buvikvaa!" the Bishop said repeatedly. You speak Dezorian! You speak Dezorian!

To which Sawa responded by smiling, nodding, and saying, "^isbe, ^isbe!" Yes, yes!

After a moment, Sawa politely dismissed himself and walked towards his office. Jut watched him go, then followed Rudo out of the office space and into the corridor, which was devoid of life save for the two of them. "I can not begin to express how much that honored me, Commander," Jut beamed, still letting out an occasional chuckle of surprise, as the door closed behind them and they began strolling down the hall.

"Sawa is amazing," Rudo agreed. "He spent a week working with me on the formal greeting I delivered to you on behalf of the Palman people when you arrived last night."

"Is he the Agency's language specialist?" the Dezorian priest asked.

"Among other things," Rudo nodded. "I met him a year ago when I joined the Agency. He told me then that he studied languages 'as a hobby.' The fact of the matter is, he practically inhales them. Once I became Commander and gained access to Agency personnel records, I learned the things Sawa himself is too modest to reveal, such as the fact that he can speak every single dialect that's in use today of the native Motavian language, as well as tens of ones that fell out of use decades ago. And, of course, he speaks Palman, but he also speaks a few Old Palman languages -- we're talking languages of cultures that lived and died on Palm millennia ago."

"How, may I ask, did he learn Dezorian?" Jut asked, his astonishment hardly diminished at all.

"He learned it from some old texts he found in the Central Tower Library. Apparently, they were brought to Mota a long time ago, during more... friendlier times."

Jut blinked at Rudo's words, then stopped and faced Rudo. "Commander," he began seriously, "with you and I working together, I envision an Algo in which people like Agent Sawa will be able to come to Dezo and learn the many dialects of our language as it should be learned -- through conversation and association with Dezorians!"

"You'll hear no complaints on that from me," was Rudo's honest answer.

They had stopped near a large picture window that looked in on the Central Tower's gymnasium, and Jut turned his head to look inside. A group of men and women, all wearing some sort of gym uniform and all students, apparently, were sitting before an area where large, soft mats had been spread out across the floor. Standing on these mats was an athletic woman with long, blonde hair who was obviously their teacher, and Jut and Rudo watched as she demonstrated some sort of self-defense technique. "Oh!" Jut suddenly exclaimed as he recognized the woman. "It's your wife!"

"That's Anna," Rudo nodded with a smile. The two leaders watched as Anna Steiner called for a volunteer from her assembled students. The (unlucky) young green-haired man stepped forward and, upon Anna's cue, took on a ready position. Through the thick glass, Jut and Rudo both clearly heard Anna command, "Attack!" and then the kid charged, lunging towards his teacher with a reverse punch.

Without breaking a sweat and with a minimum of effort, Anna stepped out of the way of the blow, grabbed the student's outstretched arm, and used the force of his punch as momentum to toss him into a flip. After sailing over Anna's head, he landed flat on his back. The student blinked, unhurt but surprised, but before he could react any further, Anna chopped her hand towards his throat, pausing mere inches away from contact.

After holding her hand there for a moment, the Agents' teacher's face changed from battle neutral to a wide smile. She reached out a hand to help the student to his feet, and then proceeded to show Green Hair and his fellow students exactly how she'd done it.

"She certainly seemed like quite a lady at dinner last night," Jut said as he and Rudo resumed their stroll. "She was willing to give up Guardian leadership for you?"

"We were both willing to give up our careers for the other," Rudo clarified. "In fact, for her, I would have turned down the job I have now, but when Anna learned I'd been offered the office of Commander of Mota, well... she realized what an opportunity it was." Rudo paused, smiled. "She also had some crazy idea that Mota would benefit from my leadership."

"Oh, come now, Commander," Jut chuckled. "I've seen how much your people adore you. I don't think your wife's idea was crazy at all."

By this time, they had reached the small lobby area at the end of the corridor. The lobby contained a couch and two chairs, a door leading to the stairs, a potted plant, two paintings, and three transtube entrances, one of which was the express transtube to the spaceship landing pad on the roof. Standing here on either side of the express transtube, ready to greet the Bishop upon his arrival, were two men who, aside from the fact that one had black hair and one had brown, could have passed as twin brothers.

The fact of the matter, though, was that they were not brothers. In fact, they weren't even Palman; they were androids. Both were tall and heavily built, clad in black and silver body armor, and with metallic implants lining the sides of their faces. The one with the black hair was named Wren. As the name implies, he was a Wren-type android programmed for combat and repair. He was also destined for greatness. No one knew it at the time, but 996 years later, he would travel with Protector Chaz Ashley and face and defeat the Profound Darkness.

The brown-haired android, though physically identical to Wren, was actually not a Wren-type at all -- or at least, not a true one. Until only a few short months earlier, the brown haired-android had been a Polezi model robot named L-479. As Space Pirate Tyler Jorran's co-pilot, he had been on several adventures outside of the Algo Star System, but since Tyler more-or-less gave up space pirating in favor of Palman world ship searching with Rolf after helping to destroy the New Order, L-479 found himself with some time on his hands. He'd met Wren and the two of them had designed and formulated a way to upgrade him from a Polezi model robot to a full Wren-type android. The operation was a success and L-479 gave himself a new name to suit his new body: Byren.

"Bishop," Rudo began, again making introductions, "these are the men who will fly you back to Gumbious Temple. Wren and Byren."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, gentlemen," Jut said as he shook their strong, mechanical hands. "We do not have much need for technology on Dezo, and so I have never seen anything quite like the two of you. I must admit you are both quite impressive."

"Thank you," Byren answered.

"We hope you find our performance satisfactory," Wren nodded.

Jut smiled at them politely and then turned towards Rudo. For the first time since Jut arrived late the evening before for his brief visit to Mota, Rudo detected dissatisfaction on the face of Dezo's leader. "Bishop?" Rudo asked. "Is something wrong?"

"Oh no, nothing's wrong," Jut admitted. "Though I am saddened to see my visit come to an end. I understand that you and I plan to remain in close contact, but... there is someone I rather wanted to meet before I left."

"Who is that?" Rudo asked, feeling as if he already knew the answer. Soon he learned he was correct.

"I wished to meet and shake the hand of the man responsible for freeing my world from the tyrannical grip of Pai'tekkan D'zkot," Jut said, just as Rudo had predicted he would. "I wished to meet the Agent they call Rolf Hansen."

Rudo pursed his lips for a moment before responding. He felt himself torn between his goals and desires as Commander of Mota and his promises as a friend. In the end, it was no contest. His friendship won out over duty easily.

"I'm sorry, Bishop. Rolf is no longer with the Agency, and though he is indeed on Mota at the moment--"

"Can I meet him?" Jut interrupted excitedly.

"No, I'm afraid not. I don't know his exact whereabouts," Rudo lied.

"Well, I see," Jut nodded, and within a moment, the happiness and satisfaction Rudo had become so familiar with had returned to the Bishop's face. "It will give me something to look forward to next time, yes?"

"Next time it is," Rudo agreed, shaking Jut's hand a final time. "It was a pleasure meeting you, Bishop."

"Likewise, and it will continue to be a pleasure working with you, Commander, for the mutual benefit of both our worlds. Oh, and please... call me Jut!"

Rudo couldn't help but smile as the man roared in laughter once again. "If you're Jut, then I'm Rudo," he responded. Then, after a nod and a good-bye from the Bishop, the Dezorians' new leader stepped into the transtube, followed by Wren and Byren.

Letting out a deep breath, Rudo reflected on the changes that had occurred in just the last two years. As he did so, he couldn't help but smile. On this exact day two years ago, he'd been a Biomonster Hunter who had, along with his friends, made his way deep inside the monstrous underwater Climatrol structure. There, he, whose job it was to kill Biomonsters, came face-to-face with the queen of them all, a queen who was revealed to be Nei's sister and so much more. They had become wanted felons that day, and they had also lost a very dear friend.

And now, he, Rudo Steiner, was no longer a Biomonster Hunter but Commander of Mota, in charge of the entire planet. He was no longer figuring out the best ways to blow up Tera Kites and Rot Woods, or dreaming about dismembering Locusts and Fire Ants, he was now figuring out what issues to address at the next Paseo Council meeting, and shaking hands with the leader of Dezo -- a leader who actually, for once, didn't seem to have a knife up his sleeve.

In the first days after losing Mother Brain, life on Mota had been thrown into such chaos that some doubted whether or not civilization would even be able to continue. Now, two short years later, it appeared to Rudo that Mota was on the verge of a practical Golden Age. "Things can only get better," Rudo muttered under his breath before stepping towards a transtube so that he could return to his office. Upon reflection, Rudo realized that all of the evidence pointed to the fact that, as far as anyone could tell, that statement would be true for the foreseeable future.

To that, Rudo had to smile.

- - - - - - - - - -

While Bishop Jut was in the Central Tower asking Rudo if it would be possible for him to meet Algo's Protector before he returned to Dezo, the Protector himself was just outside of Paseo on a plateau which overlooked the city, placing a single flower on a grave which rested there.

"Hi, Nei," Rolf Hansen smiled as he crouched over the place where she had been buried after being killed by Neifirst exactly two years before. The part-Esper Protector, who still wore his Agent's uniform despite the fact that he was no longer officially associated with the Agency, was not at all saddened, despite the anniversary the day marked. A year ago, he had been an emotional wreck, tormented and tortured by the loss of his beloved "sister" and torn apart with guilt and self-blame for the destruction of Palm.

But last year, when he had defeated D'zkot, he had defeated these inner demons, as well. Now, armed with the knowledge that the people of Palm were still alive and that Nei now existed in a much better place than this physical world, he was prepared to sit and speak with his sister free of emotional agony.

"You wouldn't believe everything that's happened in the last year," Rolf said, dropping from his crouch to actually sit on the grass. "I feel like a completely new person, and in many, many ways, I am. I'm not even with the Agency anymore, if you can believe that. Most of my time during the last year has been spent either at Esper Mansion, where Lutz has been putting me through vigorous workouts to hone my telemental abilities, or aboard the Landale. Tyler and I have been searching outer space outside of Algo for any of the world ships that fled Palm. Granted, they have a one-year head start on us, but I'm still optimistic that we'll find at least some of them. It would mean so much to everyone here if even some of the people of Palm came home.

"But, we haven't found any just yet, except for the two that never made it out of the system. D'zkot discovered them right away and hid them with some kind of cloaking fields, but when Noah was finally destroyed last year, we found them. The Gaiden was orbiting Mota and Camineet II was orbiting Dezo. Unfortunately, the Gaiden suffered some kind of malfunction after take-off, and everyone aboard had died. It's still in orbit, though. Maybe we'll figure out how to bring it back down someday, so we can at least salvage its technology.

"Tyler did manage to save the people aboard Camineet II, though, and he brought them to down to Dezo, where they started a village. They even named it after him: Tyler! And more than that, they want Tyler himself to become village chief!" Rolf laughed. "Can you believe that? Tyler settling down? I'm amazed he's managed to continue this search for more ships, personally.

"Oh yeah, and as for L-479, well he's moved on to better things than helping us find the ships. He's in Paseo somewhere now, I think. See, when he helped Tyler rescue the Palmans on the Camineet II, he met a Wren-type android who had been aboard the ship. He and Wren are buddies now, and Wren upgraded him from Polezi to full Wren-type. Since then, El changed his name to Byren. Get it, Nei? Wren made the upgrade, so El is now 'by Wren'? Byren? I know," Rolf shook his head, "the Polezi model was never supposed to have a sense of humor. I think now we know why.

"But anyway, like I said, when Tyler and I aren't out looking for more ships, I'm at Esper Mansion. It's a pretty good thing Lutz spent so much time training me right away, too, because pretty soon after I moved there, Hugh and Amy managed to figure out why the half-Espers didn't have their powers. It was such a glorious day, Nei. Lutz and I were off in some room together, studying, and all of a sudden he looked up and said, 'Amy and Hugh have found something.' A minute later the two of them barged into the room and they could barely contain their excitement. I'll never forget it. Amy just smiled while Hugh said, 'I believe we've made a breakthrough.' Within a week, every half-Esper had received telemental powers.

"After that, Lutz started the monumental task of training all of them in their new abilities. I helped him as best as I could, but hey, I'm still learning myself. Amy's still back at the mansion. Lutz made it clear that she didn't have to stay, but she said she wanted to, to monitor the new Espers' conditions and what-not. Hugh, though, left right away. He's working with Kain over in Zema on some project called Seed, in a place they've made called Birth Valley. I'm supposed to head over there tomorrow and check it out.

"The population of the mansion hasn't dropped or risen, though, because when Hugh moved out, Shir moved in. One of the new Espers is a guy named Lance Moonseer. He and Shir hit it off right away. They totally fell for each other, and they got married. And guess what, Nei? Shir's going to be a mother! She's expecting her first baby any day now.

"And guess who else got married? Rudo and Anna! I know, you never would have seen it coming with the way they used to bicker and argue two years ago about the merits of the Guardians versus those of the Hunters, but they went through a lot together last year, thanks to D'zkot, and I have to say, I think they're perfect for each other. It's so great to know that Rudo was able to find someone else to love as much as he loved Liz.

"But you know, I'm not sure how much wedded bliss Rudo and Anna are able to just sit back and enjoy. When they decided to finally be together, both of them also decided to give up their jobs, since Agents and Guardians were sort of at odds with each other at that time, at least as far as the government was concerned. Before Rudo could quit, though -- get this, Nei -- he found himself Commander of Mota." Rolf shook his head. It still amazed him. "Who would have guessed that big Hunter who walked through our front door two years ago would end up leading the entire planet, eh? Not me.

"Anyway, with Rudo in the office of Commander, he issued an executive order making the Guardians the official police force of Mota. So the problem of the conflict between he and Anna's careers was solved, but Anna had alre ady given leadership of the Guardians over to Kip, and she didn't want to take that away from him, so now Rudo has her training cadet Agents in the Central Tower. You know with Anna training them that those Agents will be able to fight, eh, Nei?"

Rolf let out a deep breath and climbed to his feet. "I probably should be going now. But you know you're always in my thoughts, and you know I haven't forgotten what you told me from Elsydeon. I know that you and I will be together again, my sister. So until then..." He covered his mouth, kissed his palm, and then blew it towards Nei's grave. After that, he turned and started to walk across the plateau.

He hadn't taken but three steps before he realized there was an odd buzzing at the back of his brain. I'm not alone here... he realized. Rolf turned--

And came face to face with a monster.

It was a tannish, winged beast with what looked like several pairs of legs and one small head, the teeth-lined mouth of which currently was aiming straight for Rolf. He had turned around just in time. He was able to throw himself to the grass and somersault out of the path of the monster (which Rolf did not know was called a Gy-Laguiah) just as it passed over him with a shrriiiieeekkk of attack.

"What in the world?" Rolf muttered aloud as he leaped back to his feet, pulling the Neisword from the scabbard at his side at the same time. He put himself into a defensive stance, preparing for the monster's next sweep, but again he was surprised. The Gy-Laguiah's mouth opened and a blast of energy shot forth towards Rolf, who narrowly blocked the blast by bringing his Neisword (and a quick teke shield) up in front of him.

Thinking something along the lines of Two can play at that one, Rolf, as the creature passed overhead, lowered his Neisword and raised his left hand. Concentrating his power into a burst of pyrokinesis, he launched a volley of fiery Nafoi that clipped the monster's right wing, producing from it a howl of agony.

The Gy-Laguiah soared past him a ways before turning around for another pass. Rolf, too, used the time to prepare himself for further combat. {Tyler} he mentally called to his friend who waited for him at the bottom of the plateau. {I could use some help up here. There's some kind of Biomonster. Bring your blaster!}

Sensing Tyler was on the move, Rolf braced himself for the Gy-Laguiah's next attack. If all went well, Tyler would arrive after the whole thing was over, because Rolf was betting that the Gy-Laguiah was underestimating him. As the monster approached, again opening its energy-throwing mouth, Rolf leaped into the air... using a bit of telekinesis to give him a boost. The jump put him on level with the creature. Rolf hoped the move would generate a moment of surprise in the monster -- a moment just long enough for him to swing the Neisword at its head -- but instead, the creature, as if expecting the move, just batted Rolf away with one of its wings.

He fell to the ground and landed in a heap, almost falling right onto his sword. The impact of the fall temporarily stunned him. He shook it off, but after he did so, he climbed back to his feet, looked around, and found he could not locate the Gy-Laguiah.

"Rolf!"

Tyler's voice alerted him, and Rolf spun on his heels in time to see the Gy-Laguiah was flying low to the ground and straight towards him. In fact, the monster was now just about on top of him.

Acting on instinct, Rolf fell to one knee and drove the Neisword upwards. He felt the blade strike deep into flesh, heard an inhuman scream, and knew he had won the battle. The monster continued over his head, but Rolf turned in time to see it collapse to the ground several meters past him. It did not move again.

The lack of movement wasn't quite enough, however, for Space Pirate Tyler Jorran. As he arrived on the scene, he ran past Rolf, laser pistol in hand, and stopped at the monster's side. Only after shooting five blasts into the carcass for good measure did Tyler nod, holster his weapon, and turn to Rolf. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Rolf nodded as he used a handkerchief to wipe the monster's green blood off of his blade. Then, with a nod towards the dead Gy-Laguiah, he added, "It came out of nowhere. I've never seen anything like it."

"Neither have I," Tyler agreed. "Of course, I haven't had as many dealings with Biomonsters as you have."

Rolf shook his head, sheathed his sword. "That's no Biomonster."

"But you said--"

"I know what I said," Rolf agreed, "but I was wrong. Unless we're somehow just now seeing new Biomonsters for the first time, two years after they were last made, then that is not one of Mother Brain and Neifirst's creations."

"Could the Biomonsters already out there be breeding?" Tyler wondered. "Could this be some kind of offspring, or... I don't know." He shrugged. "A mutation or something?"

"It's hard to say," Rolf conceded. "But," he added, holding up the handkerchief stained with the monster's blood, "I now have a housewarming present for Hugh when we take our tour of Birth Valley tomorrow. If anyone can figure out what that thing is, it's him."

To that, Tyler nodded. Then, with an awkward glance in the direction of Nei's grave, Tyler asked, "So, uhh, are you all done here, then?"

"Yeah," Rolf nodded. "Let's head to Paseo." Then, as the two of them walked away, he turned towards Nei's grave and called out, "Sorry for the disturbance, Nei."

- - - - - - - - - -

King Lassic leaned back in his throne and let out a deep, "Hmmmmm. I have seen enough." Xanon, who stood at the foot of Lassic's dais, discontinued the magic which created the "window" on which Lassic had watched his monster's battle with Rolf. Then, Lassic noticed, Xanon looked upon his master, no doubt bracing himself for a possible outburst of anger.

"I am, naturally, displeased at the loss of a Gy-Laguiah," Lassic told Xanon, "but the spectacle did allow me to get a glimpse at this 'Rolf.' What are your impressions of him, Xanon?"

"He appears to be fit, and of a sound mind."

"For now," Lassic threw in.

"And though his Esper abilities are still weak, he does appear quite proficient with the sword."

"No doubt the Ossale blood in him," Lassic stated, rubbing his chin in thought. "That last move he did, the upward stab? It brings back memories of fencing matches with Alex, back in the days before the Triumvirate Pact. Rolf must truly be the last of the Ossales." Lassic paused for a moment, then leaned forward in his chair, grinned, and fixed his eyes on Xanon. "At least, for the time being. Alex's genetic code is about to produce another offspring. How goes it?"

"She is nearly complete," Xanon reported. "Xerik predicts another day, at the most."

"Very well," Lassic nodded. "I have waited nine months, and before that, I have waited one thousand years to seize my revenge. I certainly can wait one more day."

[an error occurred while processing this directive]