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Chapter Five

Lutz sat in a chair in the corner of the doctor's office, watching with an amused smile as the former Shir Gold lay back on the table, frowning at the man who stood over her with a knowing grin pasted across his lips. The blue-haired green-eyed man was Shir's husband, Lance Moonseer, but at the moment, it was obvious that the thief wanted to sit up and give Mr. Moonseer a good punch to his stomach.

"I'm his mother, Lance," Shir scolded. "I think I have some authority when it comes to these things."

"Of course you do," Lance smiled back. "But you're forgetting -- though you may be the golden girl, you're still head-blind."

Shir quickly folded her arms across her chest and harumphed. "I hate that term."

"Well," Lance shrugged, "your last name isn't Gold anymore, but that doesn't mean you're not the golden gi--"

"Not that," Shir frowned. "I'm talking about 'head-blind.' Can't you just say I'm a non-Esper?"

Lutz saw Lance's smile slowly fall away. "I'm sorry," he offered weakly, but as soon as he said it, Shir sighed, shook her head, and took his hand in hers.

"It's okay, moonbeam," Shir smiled up at him. "I'm just ready for our son to enter this world, so that maybe you can carry him once in a while, rather than saving all the work for me."

"Oh, you're referring to our daughter." Lance's grin was back, wide as ever.

"Mother's instinct, Lance, mother's instinct," Shir protested. "I'm telling you, our child is a boy. A son. Male. He will be a father someday."

"I'm a telemental, golden girl," Lance rebutted, "and I say that our daughter is a female who will someday be a mother."

"I suppose," Lutz spoke up, "that we'll only know once the child is born."

"No," Shir shook her head. "No, there's a faster way. We'll just have to have Amy settle this for us."

With that, the room's fourth and final occupant looked up from her corner, where she stood at a small table, preparing her instruments. "What was that?" Doctor Amy Sage inquired.

"I want you to tell us, Amy," Shir said confidently. "Settle this little disagreement. Please."

Lutz saw Amy look in his direction, but he waved her away with a hand. "I'm just here for a report on the baby's health," he said, "regardless of its gender."

"I thought..." Lance started, broke off, and then finished. "You said you wanted it to be a surprise, at her birth."

"Ohhh," Shir nodded. "I see. You know I'm right, don't you? And you're just afraid to admit it." Slowly, her mouth curved up into a sly grin. Lance held his eyes on his wife for a moment, then looked up to her doctor.

"Perform the test, Amy," he said with assurance.

"All right," Amy said as she tied her hair into a ponytail behind her head. "But I don't need to run a test. You two said you didn't want to know, so I didn't say anything, but I've known for several months now that your child... is a boy."

"See!" Shir exclaimed, pointing a finger in her husband's face, her eyes as wide as her smile. "I told you! I told you!"

"Okay, okay," Lance laughed along. "I concede that you are right. Esper power bows before the might of maternal instinct. The golden girl is correct once again."

After a few moments, the laughter of their lover's spat drifted away, and they were left only with the realization that they would soon be the proud parents of a baby boy. As Amy stepped to Shir and lifted her shirt, revealing the scar from the knife wound she'd received in the Central Tower a year before as well as an enlarged tummy, Lutz saw Shir place her hand over her belly button and rub, apparently still awestruck after nine months of pregnancy that she was about to deliver she and Lance's child. Previously, Lutz knew, they had narrowed their choices for the child's name down to two, and since they now knew they were going to have a son, the name of the next resident of Esper Mansion had been decided.

Without looking away from her tummy, Shir reached out with her other hand, grabbed one of Lance's, and placed it atop her own. "Hello, Brandon," Shir whispered. "This is mommy and daddy. We love you very much, and we hope to see you soon."

Moving around the parents' hands, Amy placed her stethoscope at several different places on Shir's tummy, then nodded to herself. "You're right about that 'soon' part, Shir," she told her sea-green haired friend. "This baby is ready to break free. You'll be going into labor any day now."

Amy retreated back to her corner table, where she made some notes on a datapad. Lutz, however, continued to watch Shir and Lance quietly, leaning forward in his chair, his chin resting on his hands, which were, in turn, folded atop his staff. Though he was one-thousand two years old, he had no children of his own. Nor did he have a wife, for that matter -- hibernating for stretches of ten years and then waking up for only a couple months at a time before repeating the process was, apparently, a fairly big roadblock to long-term, committed relationships.

Though most of Lutz's nine-hundred eighty-seven years as leader of the Espers had been spent in cold sleep, he'd still been awake a few times throughout the decades and the centuries to witness the birth of a new child at Esper Mansion first-hand. Each time was an extraordinarily special occasion, for back on Mota, childbirth may indeed have been, literally, an everyday event, but on the Alplatin Plateau, it was just the opposite, to say the least.

Now, in this place where a child's birth was not an ordinary occurrence but an irregular treasure, the birth of Shir and Lance Moonseer's child was going to be distinctly unique.

Brandon Moonseer would be the first child born since what Lutz called the Revival. Because the powers of the other Espers had only been restored a few months previously, Brandon would be the very first child to be born with Esper powers at Esper Mansion since Lutz assumed Esper leadership over nine centuries earlier. As Lutz smiled at Shir and Lance's interlocked hands gently caressing Shir's tummy, the significance -- nor the symbolism -- of the event was not lost on the master telemental.

When Master Noah had died so suddenly and had given Lutz leadership of the Espers, Lutz had been a boy of only fifteen years who faced two enormous challenges. First, he had to find a way to restore power to his fellow Espers. And second, if he couldn't do that by Space Century 352.00, it would be his duty to choose a Protector to face Dark Force and defend Algo, and, basically, the rest of the universe with it.

Twenty-two years ago, he'd witnessed Rolf's birth to Grent and Kendel Hansen of Paseo on Mota, and twelve years ago, he'd saved Rolf's life when Mother Brain exterminated the Outworlder and Grent and Kendel. Two years ago, he'd helped Rolf defeat Dark Force, fulfilling half of his mission from Master Noah, and a little less than one year earlier, thanks to Amy and Hugh, he'd completed the job and restored the other Espers' powers. Next, a new Esper baby was about t o be born. True, Brandon would not manifest his telemental abilities until he was at least twelve or thirteen, but still...

I hope I have done Master Noah proud, Lutz thought to himself. I did it. I really did it.

Shir winced in pain suddenly, but just afterwards, she looked at Lance and the two of them exchanged smiles. Puzzled, Lutz asked aloud, "Is something wrong?"

"No, not at all," Shir answered. "Brandon just kicked me, that's all." Then, she raised her head a little and asked, "Do you want to feel him, Lutz?"

His smile could have brightened the room. "May I?"

"Of course," Shir responded. Lutz stood from his chair and stepped to Shir as Lance moved his hand out of the way and as Shir reached out for Lutz's. "Here," she said as she took it and placed it on her tummy, "feel right ... there."

At first, he felt nothing, and so he instinctively reached out with his mind. He'd always found that touching the infant mind of a newborn (or in this case, an about-to-be-born) was an incomparable experience that filled he heart with joy. Lutz closed his eyes and smiled as his mind touched Brandon's infant one and as he rubbed his hand across Shir's abdomen searching for the young boy's kick. Within a moment, he felt it. He felt the kick...

And he felt a hell of a lot more, too.

Lutz reacted. He did not wince in pain, as Shir had a moment earlier, but instead, he gasped in pure astonishment and snapped open his eyes. His smile of happiness disappeared into a mask of stupefaction and his jaw dropped open because at the moment his hand felt Brandon's tiny foot strike the underside of Shir's tummy, his mind felt a flash of... power.

Esper power.

The kind of power, as Lutz was just telling himself, that he should not have seen in Brandon Moonseer until he was twelve or thirteen years old, and Lutz had just felt it, and Brandon wasn't even born yet. Lutz's hand registered the kick of Brandon's foot all right, but his mind -- which was still reeling from this almost incomprehensible find as well as some strange sort of after-effect from the mental touch -- almost did not comprehend it.

Ignoring the odd tingling in his brain for the time being, Lutz retracted his hand from Shir's belly and took a step backwards. Something else was hitting Lutz just then, too, and it wasn't young Brandon's foot. Lutz was suddenly realizing that a story he had only half-believed all of his long life was completely and entirely true.

Suddenly, in Lutz's mind, he was no longer in Amy's examination office but across the mansion from it, in the bedroom that had been Master Noah's. He was also no longer a master telemental of one-thousand two years but an inexperienced teenager of fifteen. Suddenly, it was not Shir who lay down with Lutz standing over her, but Master Noah who lay dying, with Lutz sitting next to him, and suddenly, Lutz heard Master Noah's words as clearly as the day he'd heard them the first time. The day Master Noah died.

"Lutz... I've never told you this, but the very first moment I laid eyes on you... I knew you'd be the Espers' next leader."

Master Noah had said it then, and Lutz hadn't believed him. But now it was undeniable, because now... he knew exactly what Noah had meant.

But I was one year old when Noah first saw me, and Kyle isn't even born yet! Lutz protested to himself. It was no use. He was positive. There simply was not a trace of doubt in his mind. He knew it to be true that Kyle Moonseer would be the Espers' next leader.

Only a couple of seconds had passed since Lutz's initial gasp, and now, he took another step backwards as a third -- and this one, perhaps, even more startling than the first two -- realization hit him. Brandon, Lutz realized. Lance and Shir just said his name was Brandon, not Kyle.

Lutz could not explain it, but the two individuals who would name the new life were, quite simply, in error. For a moment, Lutz wondered if perhaps Brandon would have a brother, and if this hypothetical brother would be named Kyle, but he instantly knew that idea was bogus, as well. He was absolutely sure that Kyle Moonseer would be the Espers' next leader, and he was also absolutely sure that the Espers' next leader was currently being nurtured in Shir's womb.

"Master Lutz?" Lance asked, alarmed. "Master Lutz, are you all right?"

Quickly, Lutz composed himself, nodded, and flashed a quick smile. "Yes, I'm fine," he replied. "I just... wasn't aware young... Brandon would be so strong."

"He will be," Shir nodded, returning her gaze to her belly. "In body as well as in mind." Then she added, "If you train him, that is."

A pause. "I will train him," Lutz finally responded softly. He smiled at Shir's belly and then, slowly, he stepped backwards and fell back into his chair, staring in the direction of Shir's abdomen but not focusing on it as Amy reapproached Shir.

"Here's my report," the doctor told the thief and her husband. "Your son is perfectly healthy. However, Shir, like I said a moment ago, we've reached the final stages of your pregnancy. You're so far along now, in fact, that I want you to stay here in the mansion clinic until you have your baby."

"But," Shir protested, "our quarters are so close. Can't I...?"

"I'm afraid not," Amy held firm. "Brandon could be born in a week, or in an hour. I want you close by my medical equipment, so we can get your baby delivered as quickly and as easily as possible."

In the corner, Lutz heard none of this. He simply sat, staring blankly, trying to focus on the strange after-effect of touching Brandon's -- Kyle's -- mind, which still lingered in his own. As he concentrated, he felt it grow into a buzz at the back of his brain. It felt like...

Shir and her husband exchanged glances, then they both returned their eyes to Amy. "But Doctor," Lance began, "couldn't you bring your equipment to our quarters?"

"Lance, I'm sorry," Amy said. "Two months ago I wanted to transfer Shir to Meller Hospital in Oputa, or at least Paseo Memorial, but the two of you insisted you wanted your child born here at Esper Mansion. I just can't make any more concessions. If you'd like me to set up a bed so that you can stay here with Shir, that is, of course, fine, but if your baby is going to be born here at Esper Mansion, then he's going to be born in the clinic. All right?"

Now, Lutz's entire brain was tingling, and the sensation was all coalescing into a... a sound?

"We understand," Shir nodded. "And we thank you for all you've done, Amy."

"Yes, thank you," Lance added. "You've--" Lance broke off, furrowed his brow, and then turned around to look at Lutz. "Master Lutz, are you sure--"

"No, I'm not sure, Lance," Lutz interrupted as he stood from his chair. "Excuse me."

With that, Lutz brought his staff in front of him and disappeared from the office, leaving Amy, Shir, and Lance with blank looks on their faces. He simply had no time to explain what was going on. He didn't have the time to tell them that a sensation had enveloped his brain as soon as he had touched Kyle's mind, and that this sensation had seemed to have opened a pathway, and that through this pathway he heard a voice scream his name.

"Lutz!"

Nor did he have time just then to inform them that the owner of the voice was, without a doubt, Master Noah.

- - - - - - - - - -

King Lassic left his Air Castle's throne room, strolled down the corridor outside, and threw open double doors to a large chamber on his left. As his eyes detected the sight that awaited him inside, his face brightened into a smile, and though he did not look at the Xe-A-Thouls, he addressed them when he said, "She is ready."

"Yes, my lord," Xanon nodded. "She is."

Slowly, Lassic stepped further into the room, letting the doors swing shut behind him. He kept his eyes focused on the breeding capsule in the center of the room. When it had first arrived in the Air Castle it had been empty. Now, nine months and two genetic samples later, it contained a fully-grown girl.

She floated within the capsule, suspended by the biosympletic fluid within it. Bubbles escaped from her lips, though she wore no breathing apparatus; it appeared as though she were actually inhaling the fluid. The Xe-A-Thouls had clothed her in a skin-tight black body suit which covered all of her below the neck except her hands. A black cape hung on a nearby hook, obviously a part of her outfit to be added later.

Lassic shifted his scepter to his left hand as he reached the birthing chamber and placed his hand on the glass, while his eyes looked down and traced her body all the way up. Through the skin-tight suit, Lassic could see her feet, each with five toes; slender legs, which Lassic knew contained powerful muscles underneath the flesh; a taught abdomen; arms that floated out to her sides and ended in hands with palms open and fingers outstretched; and finally, the girl's face.

If Rolf or Rudo -- or, for that matter, anyone who had lived in Paseo two and a half years ago -- had been in the Air Castle at that moment, he would have recognized the face instantly. It was Nei's. Rolf and Rudo would also recognize it as having belonged to one other individual: Neifirst.

The king traced his eyes along the curves of the girl's acorn-shaped face, and then followed them up along the girl's two orange-yellow ears which protruded out of her hair on either side of her head. Speaking of her hair, which floated out behind her in the biosympletic fluid, it appeared to be the one physical difference between her and Nei and Neifirst. While Nei's hair had been a brilliant purple, this girl's hair was a solid jet-black.

"She is exquisite," Lassic whispered before turning towards the Xe-A-Thoul who stood at the birthing chamber's control panel. "You have done very well, Xerik."

"Thank you, lord Lassic," Xerik nodded. "She is ready to emerge."

Xanon approached the king and motioned him towards the room's corner. "If you would care to step back, your majesty, we will release her from the capsule."

Lassic did as he was requested (for no one told the mighty King Lassic to do anything). Xanon remained next to him, as Xarxas approached the capsule itself. Xarxas nodded to Xanon, who then turned to Lassic. "Would you care to give the order?"

He nodded. "Xerik," Lassic said, "deliver my weapon."

Xerik punched buttons on his control panel. Lights on the breeding capsule flashed and blinked, sounds beeped and buzzed, and then the biosympletic fluid started to drain. The girl inside the chamber lowered towards the bottom, and when the fluid was gone, she fell to her knees on the floor of the capsule's birthing tank. Xarxas leaned down towards the base of the capsule, pushed a button, and then a section of the glass moved aside, and the black-haired half-Palman half -Musk Cat weapon of Lassic fell face-first out of the capsule, onto the stone floor of the Air Castle, and there she lay, motionless.

"What is this?" Lassic said softly to Xanon. "I thought you said she lives."

"I... I'm not sure," Xanon answered nervously. He started to step towards Xerik at his control panel, but before he could--

The girl jerked to life.

Her head and body raised up into the air as she pulled herself up to a kneeling position with a jerk of movement. Her eyes wide open for the first time, she hacked twice, and then her body lurched forward as she vomited a massive blast of biosympletic fluid from her lungs. (Opening her eyes also revealed the other physical difference between her and Nei -- Nei's irises had been a dark pink. Neithird's were as dark black as her hair.) As she fell forward, she placed her hands on the floor, and then she continued to cough and hack and vomit, weezing huge gulps of air in between, until her lungs had been completely dispelled of the fluid.

Only then did she raise her head, and the first thing she saw was the Xe-A-Thoul standing directly in front of her: Xarxas.

"You gave her the education I requested?" Lassic, in the corner, whispered to Xanon, as the two of them watched the girl stare Xarxas down.

"Yes, lord," Xanon nodded. "We sent it via telepathy directly to her mind. She has been fully programmed."

"I want her tested," Lassic ordered.

Xanon nodded to Lassic, then called out to Xarxas, "You know what to do."

Xarxas looked to Xanon, nodded, and then kneeled before the girl in the black skin-tight body suit. The girl did not move as Xarxas's face became more on-level with hers. She simply continued to breathe heavily as she stared.

"You know your name?" Xarxas demanded in his hollow voice. The girl nodded, but did not take her eyes off of Xarxas. "What is it?"

In a dry, raspy voice, the girl answered, "Neeeee... ihhh.... Nei-third."

"That is correct," Xarxas nodded. "Your name is Neithird. And do you know who I am?"

"Zee-uhh-thooool," Neithird answered. Her voice was still low and dry -- it was almost a growl.

"Excellent," Lassic whispered to himself, still in the shadowy corner of the room with Xanon. "Xarxas," he then called out to the Xe-A-Thoul, "show her the enemy."

Xarxas nodded to Lassic, then stood back up and took two steps backwards. He raised his hand and in between himself and Neithird appeared the image of Rolf at Nei's grave, fighting the Gy-Laguiah. "Tell me, Neithird," Xarxas asked, "who is this?"

Neithird -- still on her hands and knees -- emitted a low growl. One side of her mouth raised up to reveal her teeth as she hissed out, "Rollffff..."

From the corner, Lassic called out, "Show her the others." At this, Xarxas looked to Xanon and blinked. At the same time, Lassic noticed Xerik, who still stood at the breeding capsule's control panel, lower his head. This was enough to get Lassic's attention. He turned to Xanon and asked quietly, "You did teach her about the others. Didn't you?"

"My lord," Xanon began before starting over. "My lord, Landale and her companions--"

Lassic's hand shot out and scooped up a handful of Xanon's robe at the Xe-A-Thoul's throat. "I instructed you and Xarxas and Xerik to make sure she was given their images three times a day for the last nine months, and I instructed you to instruct her that they were our number one enemy, and that they are to be killed the moment she sees them!"

"We did as you ask, my lord!" Xanon protested. "But your majesty, I must point out to you, that Landale and her three companions are dead. Neithird would gladly kill them for you, my lord, but I'm afraid time has already beaten her to it."

Still clutching Xanon's robe, Lassic simply stared the Xe-A-Thoul in the eye. His lip twitched and quivered, and then, Lassic gripped Xanon's robe tighter, and pointed the index finger of his scepter-holding hand in Xanon's face. "I will have my revenge," he told Xanon, and then he released the Xe-A-Thoul, and turned his attention back to Xarxas. "Now, Xarxas," Lassic ordered. "Show her."

"As you wish, your majesty," Xarxas nodded, and then he turned his attention back to Neithird, whose breathing had now become normal. Xarxas raised his hand and where the image of Rolf had been a moment earlier, there appeared an image of Myau, Silver Fang in his mouth, his small body poised for attack.

Immediately upon seeing the image, Neithird began to growl. She hissed, and drool fell from her lips to the Air Castle floor. "Who is this, Neithird?" Xarxas asked her. "Who is this, and what are you to do to him?"

"Myau..." Neithird hissed. "Kill Myau. Kill Myau."

Xarxas tilted his hand, and the image changed to a man in a long white robe. "His name, Neithird," Xarxas questioned again. "What are you going to do to him?"

"No-uhhh," Neithird growled slowly, her breath coming faster and faster. "Kill him. Kill Noah..."

The image changed again, this time to a blonde haired man carrying a large axe over his shoulder. "Name, Neithird. His name, and your mission."

"Ohh-dinn," Neithird practically screamed as, keeping close to the floor, she raised her knees into the air and balanced herself on her toes. "Kill Odin. Kill him!"

One final time, the image changed. Now, a representation of Alis Landale stood between Neithird, who was now breathing very quickly and drooling as if leaking. "Who is--" Xarxas began, but Neithird cut him off.

"Alissss!" Neithird hissed. From the corner, Lassic saw, through her skin-tight suit, Neithird's leg muscles tighten and bulge and then she screamed, "Alis Landale kill her kill her kill them ALL!" and then--

She pounced.

She pounced directly at the image of Alis Landale and soared right through it into Xarxas, whom she hit squarely in the chest and tackled to the ground. She then straddled Xarxas's body, drool flying from her hissing, growling lips, as she tore at Xarxas's face and robes with her bare hands.

"Get her off!" Xarxas screamed. "Get her off of me!"

As Xerik and Xanon rushed to Xarxas's aid, Neithird threw her head back, her jet-black hair flipping behind her, and emitted a loud, wordless, inhuman howl. Then, she bared her teeth and shot her head down towards Xarxas's face, intending to bite a chunk of his demonic flesh right off of his cheek.

Lassic then banged his scepter on the stone floor and shouted, "Enough!" and Neithird quickly stopped and turned her head, laying her eyes on the king for the first time.

Xanon and Xerik simply froze in place, and Xarxas alternated his gaze between Neithird and Lassic. After several moments of silence, Lassic extended his hand to Neithird and said, "Rise. Come to me."

Neithird did as she was told. She stood from Xarxas and stepped across the room towards Lassic. When she reached him, she simply looked up into his eyes. All of the uncontrollable rage that had been present a moment before was now gone, replaced with wide-eyed admiration.

The king smiled at her and asked, "Did the Xe-A-Thouls tell you who I was?" Neithird slowly nodded her head. "That was good of them. Who, exactly, did they say I was?"

"King Lassssikk," Neithird answered in her hiss of a voice.

"That is correct," Lassic nodded. His smile had disappeared. "And how did they teach you to address me?"

"My lord," Neithird answered. "My massssster."

"And how do you show respect for your master?" Lassic demanded with a satisfied grin. Instantly, Neithird fell to her knees, her arms outstretched to her sides and her face close to the floor. Lassic stifled a chuckle as his smile returned. He crouched down and with his free hand scratched Neithird's scalp underneath her jet-black hair.

Across the room, Xanon and Xerik helped Xarxas to his feet. The second Xe-A-Thoul wiped a hand across his cheek. It returned with blood on it; apparently, Neithird had cut him open with her bare hands.

Still petting Neithird's hair, Lassic asked her softly, "What are you going to do for me, Neithird? What are you going to do for your lord, King Lassic?"

Neithird did not raise from her bow, but she did answer, "Kill them. Kill them alllll."

Upon hearing this, Lassic looked up to the assembled three Xe-A-Thouls, his eyes and mouth lit up with a smile. In response, the Xe-A-Thouls only blinked to one another. Then, Xarxas again looked at the blood on his hand, then to Neithird, and then to King Lassic. A grin spread across his demonic face as he said, "Lord Lassic, I'm really going to like her."

- - - - - - - - - -

Not bothering to traverse the secret passageways and tunnels, Lutz simply teleported himself to Elsydeon's room, lit, as always, only by the glowing Aero-Prism in the corner and the reflections it cast off of the sacred sword. There was simply no mistaking what he had heard. It had been Master Noah, and he had said, "Lutz." Those facts were not in debate.

The only question was, Why?

Two quick steps brought Lutz to the blade. He reached out and placed his hand on its Laconia metal. Then, he quickly pulled it back. He had visited residents of Elsydeon throughout his millennium of life, whenever he most needed assistance, but never had communicating with the sword been like this. Every other time he came into contact with it, the song in his head had been a harmonious one, full of joy.

Today, Elsydeon was screaming.

He again placed his hand on the blade. He could not make out many words, but that was because he was having a hard enough time making out individual voices. It's not exactly crowded in there, Lutz told himself. Concentrate! However, try as he might, he only could detect snippets of thoughts.

"--retur--"

"--ried for months to contact you--"

"--ehow blocked!"

"--turned, he has--"

"--danger! Algo is--"

And finally, one thought became clear, though he could not pin down who it came from:

"He has returned!"

With that, the voices simply turned into silence.

Lutz stood bewildered for a moment, but then he quickly moved his hand to another place of the sword, and then another, and another. Growing frantic, he started speaking aloud. "Who has returned?" he demanded. "Dark Force?"

Nothing. Elsydeon -- for the moment, anyway -- remained quiet.

Unsure of what to do next, Lutz removed his hands from the sword and simply stood there. He glanced at the Aero-Prism, floating in its special display, and though he did not know why, he grabbed it and held it in his left hand, then placed his right palm and the knuckles of his left hand on the blade. "Please, Master Noah, speak to me," he demanded both aloud and with his mind. "Master Noah, I heard you call my name. I heard you shout out in my mind, 'Lutz!' Queen Landale? Odin? Nei? Any of you, please speak to me. Tell me who has returned!"

It was no use. Still clutching the Aero-Prism, Lutz stepped backwards until his back touched the far wall of the small room. He then slid to the floor and sat there, turning the Aero-Prism over and over in his hands and staring at the blade.

The attack on Birth Valley nine months before. It still remained unsolved, and though Lutz did not know the "who" of that matter, he definitely knew the "why." "Someone is going to make another Nei," Lutz whispered to the empty room. "Someone stole Alis Landale's father's DNA as well as that of a Musk Cat. Mother Brain used them to create Neifirst and now someone is going to use them for the exact same thing. And that someone is going to use it, somehow, on Rolf. But who? And who has returned?"

Lutz didn't know, and it made him nervous. Damn nervous. In fact, he realized he hadn't felt this much anxiety since first stepping into the cryogenic sleeping chamber nine-hundred eight-seven years earlier. Someone or someones were out there, and he or she or it or they were gunning for Rolf.

And now, for all the good it did him, Lutz knew that one of these "someones" had returned.

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