[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Part Three

The chair Lutz sat in normally was stationed across the room, at his cabin's small table. Instead, he had it placed in front of his cabin's sole small window, watching the stars go by outside it. His fascination with space had surprised even himself a bit, but now, he wasn't quite sure why. Space was the physical manifestation of everything he tried to create in his mind during meditation -- nothingness. Being out amongst the nothingness was a wonderful way to clear his mind.

But not today. If outer space represented his ideal state of mind during meditation, then today his mind looked more like the junkyards of Bortevo. There was too much there, too much... too much emotion to be able to just shove it all aside.

The door to his cabin chimed. "Come in, Andrea," he said aloud.

She entered the cabin. He did not look at her directly, only at her reflection in the window. Even though the reflection was dull, her eyes still appeared bright green. The corners of his mouth raised into a smile at that.

Remaining across the room from him, she placed her hands on her hips. "When I woke up this morning and went down to the dining area to meet you for breakfast and waited and waited and finally gave up on you showing up, I didn't think much of it. I figured maybe, hey, you know, he just can't hold his ouzo very well, and he's sleeping in. But when you weren't down there for lunch, either, that's when I got worried."

"My apologies," he said quietly.

She sighed, folded her arms across her chest. "You regret it, don't you? Last night, kissing me."

"Yes."

She sighed again, blinked her eyes, bit her lip. "What, did my breath stink or something? Lutz, you were the one who started--"

Finally, he turned to look at her. "You misunderstand," Lutz interrupted her. "I am not ashamed of the time we shared. But I do feel it was a mistake on my part to initiate it."

Andrea shook her head. "I don't understand."

"Andrea, in two short months, I must return to the mansion's basement, return to cold-sleep for ten years. Nothing can stop that."

"What does that have to do with me?"

"It means what I did last night was incredibly selfish and self-indulgent, when I had no intentions of staying with you beyond the next two months. I am normally a very rational thinker. What I did last night lacked all logic, and contained absolutely no foresight for the future."

She chuckled. "Yeah, Lutz, I know. It's called infatuation."

His eyes narrowed. "I am six-hundred fifty years old," Lutz said. "I do not--"

"But you don't look a day over twenty," Andrea cut him off, "and part of you stopped growing at fifteen the day you became Esper leader. You said yourself last night was your first date. You were about to say you love me, weren't you?"

He stood from his chair. "Andrea, of course I love you."

"No, you don't," she said, walking towards him. "Not yet, anyway. You can't. You barely know me. It's not like we were returning to Esper Mansion to be married."

Lutz blinked. Had she seen something in his mind, when they had shared their mental link...?

"Oh goodness," she said, lowering her face to her hands, "you thought we were, didn't you?"

He had trouble finding the words. "I... I thought we were in love..."

She hugged him tightly, rested the side of her face against his chest. "Lutz, you're one of the smartest men I've ever known, and you're also one of the silliest. We're not in love and we're not getting married, so you don't have to worry about leaving your wife in two months when you go into cold-sleep."

"Now I do not understand, then," Lutz admitted, "why you are here."

She looked up, kissed his cheek. "Because I like you, Lutz, I like you a lot. And maybe someday, sure, maybe someday we will be in love. But for now, we're just going to spend the next two months together. We're going to focus on our work, and we'll share time together outside the lab whenever we can." A wide smile. "For the first time in your life, you're going to enjoy yourself."

"Three days ago, if anyone had told me that I would be here, with you... even if Queen Landale herself, bless her eternal soul, had said, 'Lutz, you and Andrea Larson'... I never would have believed them."

"Think of how I feel," Andrea replied. "Three days ago, I thought you were going to come to Palma and kill me for leaving Esper Mansion. I never dreamed that instead you'd ask me on a date and kiss me."

Lutz turned his head, looked out at space. "In this system, my dear, stranger things have happened."

- - - - - - - - - -

Kyra shook her head slowly. There was a long pause after Rune finished his last sentence, and then she finally said, "I never thought of Lutz that way."

Rune's eyes shot around to meet hers, a momentary flash of dread evident in them. "No, that's okay, that's okay!" Kyra reassured him. "I mean, yes, you're disrupting the image I had of Lutz, but in a good way. I never imagined him... well, with feelings like that."

He sighed, met her eyes again. "I never would have brought you to the Inner Sanctum that day had I known how you were going to react, Kyra," Rune told her. The sincerity in his voice was clear to Kyra, even without her telepathy, but it did little to comfort her.

"I didn't give you much choice," she said, not wishing to go into their old debate, but speaking of it anyway. "There's no way you could have stopped me. It was my idea in the first place, after all."

"But once there," Rune continued, "I could have had Keven deny you access to the Inner Sanctum."

"No," Kyra shook her head, "because then I would have believed that in our darkest hour, the great Lutz was unwilling to help us, and that would have destroyed me, too. You were damned either way."

"I'm glad you understand," Rune said, relief in his eyes. "I never dreamed you would be that upset. That's why, later, when Lassic's henchman stole the Eclipse Torch, I just said that Lutz had once fought Lassic. I knew that's what you believed, after all, and I knew you didn't want to hear the truth right then -- that I didn't know what the hell was going on, why Lassic would want me. Do you know I even said his name wrong? I'd always thought it was 'Lashiec.' After all that happened, one night, when Chaz slept, I took Elsydeon and the souls inside corrected me."

"I don't care anymore about you lying to me," Kyra clarified. "But I hate you lying to our people. They all deserve to know the truth: that Lutz is not just a few feet from them, meditating down in the Inner Sanctum. They all deserve to know that he's dead."

They were both quiet for a long time after that. A wind had started blowing through the forest, and Kyra tied her long hair back into a ponytail to keep it manageable.

Rune stood. "The gate is not that much farther ahead," he told Kyra. "Let's go."

"Gate? What gate?"

"You'll see," was Rune's vague answer as they continued walking down the clearing in the forest. "Lutz and Andrea did spend the next two months together, you know. They spent a lot of time analyzing the Esper genetic structure, and comparing that to 'healthy' Esper DNA, such as Lutz's, to see what made his so different. It turned out, there was a lot of difference. Since Lutz was so much more powerful than most Espers, he couldn't even be considered to have a 'normal' Esper genetic code. One idea Andrea had was to exhume the bodies of Espers who died before the loss of power, to use DNA from those samples as their 'normal' Esper DNA, but Lutz refused to disturb their graves, not unless it was an absolute last resort. Besides, they had plenty of years ahead for research."

"But what about them?" Kyra asked. "Did they remain a couple?"

"Back on the space cruise, Andrea had said that maybe someday they would fall in love. She was right. It just didn't take nearly as long as they had thought. By the time Lutz returned to cold sleep two months later, they were as much in love as any couple could be."

"Isn't that exactly what Lutz was afraid of?" Kyra asked.

"Yes," Rune nodded. "That year was the most difficult return to cold sleep Lutz had ever experienced up to that time."

- - - - - - - - - -

Normally, the tradition held that a council of the eight most senior Espers in the mansion, decked out in their ceremonial robes, would see Lutz into his cold-sleep chamber and back into a decade of hibernation.

Today, tradition had bowed to Lutz's wishes. He stood in the cold-sleep chamber, next to the slab of metal that was to be his bed for the next ten years, clad only in a pair of white pants. He was alone in the room, except for his beloved Andrea, who for the first time in her life wore the ceremonial Esper robes. He hugged her close to his chest.

"This is what I was afraid of," he told her quietly, "back on the space ship here."

"But don't regret it," she said, looking up at him. "Because I don't. As painful as this is, I don't regret for a moment the last two months."

He kissed her for a long time, and then held her for an even longer time. Finally, he stepped away from her and pulled an envelope from where he had placed in on the cold-sleep chamber. "This is for you," he told her. "But you mustn't open it until I am asleep."

"What is it?" she asked.

Lutz swallowed hard. This next was painful, but realistic. The logical and careful sides of his mind had finally merged with the parts of him that at first was little more than an infatuated teenager. He knew this goodbye could be not just a placing of their relationship on hold for ten years, but an ending of it altogether. As much as he loved Andrea, and more so, as much as he knew she loved him, he knew he couldn't expect her to wait ten years for him.

"You'll still love me tomorrow," Lutz told her quietly, "as I will love you. But my tomorrow is ten years from now, and in that time... when I wake up... your feelings may have changed."

"I know," she said, her voice barely a whisper. She didn't like it, but she could not see the future. She knew it was true, that in the next ten years, her feelings, so strong now, could wither and die like a neglected flower.

"If, when I wake," Lutz continued, "you remember the words that I have written inside" -- he pointed at the envelope -- "then it will be a sign that our love is true."

Andrea bit her lip, held back tears. "And if I don't?"

Lutz swallowed again. Released a breath. "Then it was never meant to be."

She nodded. He embraced her again, gave her one last kiss, then laid down on his cot. Using his mind to activate the switch, his cot was pulled inside the chamber, as the outer walls of the chamber moved in to cover him.

The last thing he saw, the last thing he thought, was how beautiful she was in her ceremonial robes.

If he had been able to see her just a few minutes later, he would have seen her open the envelope, pull the paper within it out, read the ink he had written upon it. Then he would have seen her start to cry, dropping to her knees on the floor of the cold sleep chamber, holding the paper tightly to her chest, wishing the paper was him.

- - - - - - - - - -

Kyra did not move. She just watched Rune approach the tall, black metal gate before them and pull the key Elder Jensen had given him out of his pocket. He turned the key in the lock and then returned it to his pocket, swinging the gate open enough for the two of them to step inside.

"What did it say?" Kyra asked him, barely even noticing where she was going. "Rune, what did it say?"

Rune closed the gate behind them, continued walking forward, and told her.

- - - - - - - - - -

The sensation of movement was the first thing Lutz felt every time he awakened. Then, upon opening his eyes (just a crack at first, for after ten years, any light was too bright), he saw the world as a blur which slowly came into focus.

After many of these awakenings, he was used to the sight of the blurry blue stone ceiling of the cold sleep chamber. As it slowly came into focus, he sat up, tentatively reaching out with his mind to see who was greeting him upon this Awakening.

He came completely awake with a start when he realized that instead of the small council of Espers that usually greeted him, today just one Esper was present.

Andrea Larson.

His eyes focused on her bright green ones and his heart swelled as he saw her standing next to his chamber, wearing her ceremonial Esper robes. If not for the fact that she was wearing her hair a little differently, nor the fact that his joints felt like they hadn't moved in ten years, he would have thought it was the exact moment he had gone to sleep.

"Hello," he greeted her quietly, answering her smile with one of his own.

In response, she licked her lips and said, "'My angel, my love, from heaven above, I now can realize.'"

Unbelievably, his heart swelled even more, and his breath stopped. It was the poem he had written for her. She was reciting the poem!

The happiness in his face must have become evident, because it spread to hers, as well, and she started to weep tears of joy. "I'd give all the fauna, throughout green Palma," she continued the poem, but he cut her off, pulling her into his arms.

He finished the stanza himself by saying, "Just to see your eyes."

They both wept and held each other tight and finally he heard the words he had waited ten years to hear as she said, "I love you, Lutz."

"I love you, too," he responded, and he repeated it over and over. "I love you, too, I love you, too."

- - - - - - - - - -

Kyra Tierney wiped at her eyes with her sleeve. Through the haze created by her tears she saw Rune leaning against a nearby tree, an odd smile on his face. It was as if he was happy, but... guarded. Internally, Kyra shrugged. She had long ago given up trying to figure out Rune Walsh.

A little embarrassed, she chuckled. "What can I say?" she asked Rune. "I love happy endings."

Rune's smile wavered a bit, then he nodded, and continued down the path. She walked three steps behind him, still dabbing at her eyes. "Lutz and Andrea rekindled their romance immediately. Their happiness spread throughout Esper Mansion, as no Esper, young or old, could ever remember their leader so happy. It took Lutz just a few hours to be back to work in the lab. Normally he waited at least two days to wake up fully, and review his past notes and get back to work. But with Andrea at his side, he wanted to work right away.

"The progress she had made in the ten years prior was incredible. As you know, Esper power wasn't restored to the society at large for over three hundred more years, but without the contributions of Andrea Larson, Kyra..." Rune shook her head. "Her contributions just can not be understated."

"I take it they married, then?"

"Yes, almost immediately. But within a very short time, Lutz also realized that something was wrong."

"What do you mean?"

Rune sighed, stopped walking. He turned around to face Kyra. When he continued talking, his voice was much softer than it had been. "Those two months they had shared before Lutz returned to cold-sleep, the two were almost inseparable. That's when they fell in love, Kyra, and thanks to that time, they knew each other very, very well. As much as she tried to hide it, Lutz was able to tell right away that something was very wrong."

"What was it?" Kyra asked, but Rune did not answer right away. Instead he simply turned around and continued down the path.

It was then that Kyra realized where Rune had brought her. They were in a cemetery.

- - - - - - - - - -

Lutz sat at a desk in the laboratory, looking over a stack of reports. There was a chart Andrea had made on top. As much as she had tried to teach him, and as much as he had picked up on his own, she was the one who had gone to university to study this genetic data. Sometimes it was still hard for him to make heads or tails of it.

"Andi," he called, "could you explain this one to me?"

She was standing across the room at her microscope, staring down through the device at a sample. "Justminute," she said, quickly, quietly.

Lutz's eyes rose off the paper immediately upon hearing her. "Andrea, what is wrong?" When she did not respond, he stood.

She looked up from the microscope, her eyes barely open, her face a grimace of pain that broke Lutz's heart the moment he saw it. A single tear dripped from her eye. "I'm sorry," she somehow managed to grunt. "The pain..."

She collapsed down against the counter, nearly knocking the microscope over. Lutz ran to her and supported her with his own weight while she clutched at her abdomen, gasped for breaths. "It hurts... it hurts..."

- - - - - - - - - -

"She's resting," said Danel, the now sixty-four year old doctor who had been the one to deliver Andrea thirty years before. Armin and Nana, Andrea's parents, nodded, but Lutz just sat staring forward, his fingers steepled before his face.

"What happened to her?" Nana asked Danel. "Was it something she ate?"

"It's too early for me to be able to tell," Danel said. "At this point, it looks like a severe case of stomach flu, but--"

"She's been sick for months," Lutz interrupted.

Danel blinked. "Master, you've been asleep. How do you know that?"

"She hasn't said anything," Andrea's father added. "She's seemed fine."

"She's been hiding it," Lutz told them. "I saw it in her mind when she collapsed in the lab. Her thoughts contained extreme disappointment that she could not hide it anymore, but also, deep inside, a little relief. She didn't want anyone to know she was sick. It started in her stomach, but it's spread to her pelvis now, as well. Excruciating pain, it comes on without warning and cripples her completely."

Armin and Nana's eyes immediately went to the doctor, Danel. "I..." he stammered. "It could be any number of things."

Lutz stood, placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "It's not your fault, Danel," Lutz told him. "You've never seen anything like it before. I'm going to take her to a hospital for tests, more advanced tests than you can perform here."

"Master," Armin asked, "is that wise?"

"Armin, twelve years ago she escaped and went to Palma," Lutz reminded him. "If I take her to the hospital in Zosa, that won't do any more harm than her attending school on Palma, will it?"

"Of course not," Nana agreed.

"But I should take her alone," Lutz told them, and he could immediately see they were disappointed. "I will use my power to dampen the questions in the minds of those at the hospital when we are unable to give them an address or a visiphone number or any other questions that might arise. But it would be best if Andrea and myself were the only two I had to hide."

- - - - - - - - - -

Two days later, Lutz and Andrea traveled to the hospital in Zosa for tests, and a week after that, they returned for the results.

"Your genetic tests came back very strange," the doctor began. "I've never seen Palman DNA quite like it. Where, again, did you say you're from?"

"We've lived on Dezoris all our lives," she answered. "It's a small village, far from any other settlements." All of which was true, of course, but none of this really answered his question. However, a small push from Lutz's mind to his made that explanation sound just fine.

"I'm sorry to be the bearer of this news," the doctor told them, "but you have an extremely rare disorder called Deskin Syndrome, Mrs. Larson."

Lutz felt Andrea squeeze his hand tightly. "What does that mean?" she asked.

"I can explain the biology to you if you'd like, but what it means, simply, is that your tissues inside are breaking down. This disease hits maybe one in several hundred thousand, maybe one in a million, and as it progresses, whole organs will be debilitated. We have treatments that slow the disease, but no cure. Unfortunately none of our treatments stop the disease from reaching its final, terminal phase. I'm sorry."

Inside his chest, Lutz felt his heart explode. Maybe one in a million... He already knew she was one in a million. Why did her luck have to include this, too? "How long do I have left to live?" she asked. The lump in her throat was very clear.

"Two years," the doctor said. "Three if you're lucky."

Lutz closed his eyes, restraining the tears that were there immediately. He looked over to Andrea, reached an arm towards her as if to embrace, but she brushed it off.

"What is the first method of treatment," she asked, "and when do I start it?" There wasn't a single tear in her eyes, and nothing but determination in her voice.

- - - - - - - - - -

Two months later, Lutz's designated time to return to cold sleep came and went without so much as a mention of it by anyone in the mansion.

It was during this period of time that Lutz mastered his healing techniques. What little time he spent away from Andrea's side was spent in the Esper Mansion library, scouring texts for healing magics of any kind. Most helped ease the pain, but none could slow the disease. There were good days and there were bad days, the good days, thank God, outnumbering the bad... at least at first.

Every few months, the Deskin Syndrome would come back stronger than ever, as if to say it wasn't the only thing in Esper Mansion that hibernated for a while but then came back larger than life. When Lutz and Danel couldn't help, Lutz would take her back to the doctor in Zosa, who would prescribe a different method of treatment.

She continued to assist him in his work, whenever she had the strength to. But eventually, there came a time when working with him on the research was just too much. When this happened, his own work slowed, as well, as he devoted more and more time to caring for her.

By the time she was almost completely bed-ridden, he had put all his work on momentary pause, devoting himself night and day to caring for her at her side.

On the day she turned thirty-two years old, the entire mansion celebrated her birthday in their quarters. She was much too weak at that time to get out of bed for a party, and even if she could, the Deskin Syndrome had ravaged the muscles in her legs, making walking impossible. At night Lutz would rub a pain killing ointment on her legs, reduced to little more than skin and bones, as she drifted off to sleep. But he would hold in his tears until after he was sure she was dreaming.

That night, after the party, as he rubbed the ointment onto her, she said, "It's your bedtime, my love."

"Soon," he nodded. "I am very tired. It was an exhausting day for me, as well."

"That's not what I mean," she told him. "I don't mean time for your bed in the other room. I mean time for your bed in the basement. The cold sleep chamber."

Lutz looked at her for a long moment, but her head was leaned back, eyes closed. Slowly, as if feeling his gaze, she opened her own eyes to meet his.

"I can't do that," he told her flatly.

"Of course you can," she nodded. "You must. You know as well as I do -- for you're the one who taught me -- about why you must be alive in another four hundred years. You know what's at stake."

"It can wait, Andi," he said. He didn't want to argue with her, not when she was in this state.

"No," she disagreed. "It's been two years, love. You are way past your bedtime."

Since she was not going to back down, he figured he might as well offer the old argument. "It should be you going into that chamber," he told her, "until they find a cure for Deskin."

"That's nonsense," she told him. "You're the important one. You're the one that needs to be here."

The doctors say you only have a year left, what's one more year awake, to be at your side? It's what he thought, but he could never bring himself to say it. And he knew she knew it. If he played the "You'll be dead soon, anyway" card, not only would it hurt her terribly to hear him say such a negative (even if realistic) thing, but she would just return with something like, "Then better to say goodbye now, then when I am truly weak and dying."

"Two days from now," she started, "and it will be twelve years to the day since our first date, our first kiss. That is when we will say goodbye, and you will return to cold-sleep. You should like that, my poet. It's poetic, isn't it?"

"Perhaps," he agreed, taking her hand. "But the poem about you and I saying goodbye forever... that's a poem I never want to write. Or read."

"It won't be forever," Andi shook her head. "When I meditate, I see us together. I talk to God, and..." There was a long pause. "I don't have much time left, Lutz," she finally said softly.

"Don't think that way," he told her. "Just because that doctor said two to three years..."

"I'm not going by what the doctor said," Andi clarified. "I'm going by what I feel..."

"This disease, it comes on strong and then it leaves. You could... you could live for so long..."

She smiled, brushed his face with her hand. "My sweet prince... my poet... I love you so."

There were no more words after that. He climbed up onto the bed next to her and gently held her next to him. Soon, they both slept.

- - - - - - - - - -

When Lutz had gone to sleep twelve years before, after spending his first two months with Andrea, it had been, at that time, his hardest return to cold-sleep ever. But his next return to the cold-sleep chamber had been a thousand times worse.

Last time, it had been just Andrea in the room with him. This time, he was alone, his beloved two floors above him in the mansion, bed ridden and dying. As he lay on the metal slab that was his bed for a decade at a time, just as when awakening, the ceiling was a blue blur. Now, though, it was blurred from the water that covered his eyes.

"God, restore their powers," he prayed in a whisper. "I don't want this anymore. I don't want this responsibility. Please just restore their powers so someone else can be here when the demon returns. I just want to go back upstairs and be with the woman I love. I want to be with Andrea..."

But he knew God had already assigned him this role, and there would be no changing it. He laid there for a long, long time, alone, in tears, before he finally prayed aloud one more time.

"Please let her die peacefully, and without pain."

After that, he reached out with his mind and closed the hibernation chamber's cover. His breathing and the beat of his heart -- shattered into a thousand pieces -- slowed. Soon, he slept.

- - - - - - - - - -

Kyra's hand covered her face. She shook her head slowly. "I've always admired Lutz. But this... It just makes me admire him even more, Rune," she said softly. "All he sacrificed of himself, for the good of Algo..."

Rune placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. She looked up, wiped the tears away, and patted his hand. "Is this where she's buried?" she asked. "Is that why you've brought me here?"

"Yes," Rune nodded. "Would you like to see her?"

Kyra nodded, gave out a short chuckle. "I'd like that very much. I feel like I already know her."

Rune led the way across to a secluded part of the cemetery, where a wooden cross, perhaps two feet tall, and adorned with green flowers, marked the grave. "Andrea Dahlia Larson," Kyra read the grave aloud. "Beloved wife and daughter." She closed her eyes, said her own silent prayer, then just stared at the grave for a long time.

"Wait a minute," Kyra finally said. Her brow furrowed. "I thought you said she was thirty-two when Lutz said goodbye to her."

"I did," Rune said, and something about his voice made Kyra turn to look at him. He was smiling, a big smile, a smile full of pride. "She was thirty-two years and two days old when Lutz returned to cold-sleep."

"But Rune, it says here she was born in Space Century 348.30, and that she died in Space Century 348.70. That's forty years, Rune. Are you trying to tell me...?"

"Yes," Rune answered. "When Lutz went to sleep, saying goodbye to his beloved wife who had a year, maybe two left to live, she was thirty-two years old. And eight years later, when Lutz awoke again, he found Andrea forty years old... and very much alive."

- - - - - - - - - -

"Master! Master, wake up, please!"

The world slowly came into being around him. He heard someone shouting; he thought it was Symon's voice. Sitting up carefully, he turned, and sure enough, it was the old man. "Symon, what is it?"

"Master, come quickly," Symon said, nearly pulling Lutz from the chamber. "She wants to see you right away."

"Who?" Lutz asked. For a moment, just a moment, he dreamed it was Andrea that Symon spoke of, that she was alive, and that she was waiting to see him.

"Andrea, of course!" Symon told him. "She is alive, Master, but very sick, and she wants to see you before it's too late."

"She's alive?" Lutz asked, awestruck, and he opened his mind to search for her. Sure enough, two floors up, almost exactly where he had left her eight years before, he felt her mind.

He did not even wait for Symon. He did not even put on his robe. He simply teleported to her, clad only in his white pants, and appeared at her bedside.

The first thing he saw was her smile.

"Lutz..." she said, her voice much weaker than it had ever been before. But it was her voice and her green eyes and, God bless, it was a miracle, but she was alive!

"Andrea!" he exclaimed, falling to his knees at her bedside, holding her hand, embracing her. "How? How are you still alive?"

"Love," someone said, and Lutz looked to the other side of the bed where Andrea's mother, Nana, sat. "She's alive because of her love."

He looked back to Andrea, who smiled and nodded. "I had to see you..." she said weakly, "touch you, one last time... Tell you that... I love you..."

"I love you, too," he replied. "With all my heart."

She smiled at him one last time, then her green eyes closed forever.

- - - - - - - - - -

Kyra's mouth hung open as she stared at the grave of Andrea Larson. "He never remarried," Kyra said, shaking her head slightly from side to side. "You never said that, Rune, but you don't have to. I'm sure of it. And it's true, isn't it? He never even loved another, did he?"

When Rune remained silent, she turned her head to face him. What she saw in that moment she would never forget as long as she lived.

Tears were streaming down Rune Walsh's face as he opened one side of his robe, and slowly pulled a bouquet of flowers from his coat. He knelt down before Andrea's grave and placed the flowers upon it, then lowered his head, and wept.

And in that moment, Kyra Tierney understood everything.

Three reasons. Rune had said he had returned to the mansion today for three reasons, but he had only named two: the Day of Awakening, and asking Kyra to succeed Elder Jensen as Lutz's Prolocutor. He had never given Kyra the third reason, but now Kyra knew. He was here to visit the grave of Andrea Larson.

But what Kyra also now knew is that she had the he all wrong.

The words Rune had spoken back at the Inner Sanctum came to Kyra in a flood. "If I reveal to the mansion at large what I revealed to you two years ago," he had said, "they won't see the truth. All they'll see is an Esper who left the mansion and his people long ago, a prodigal son come home to say that their beloved leader is not with them today, but that he died a millennium ago. I will not tell our people that, Kyra."

She had argued that their people deserved the truth. He disagreed. Now, she knew she was wrong. Her people knew the truth. It was she who believed the lie.

She wept again, but not at the story of Lutz and Andrea Larson and their love for one another. She wept now because at last, she understood.

"You still love her, don't you?" she asked Rune, realizing for the first time in her life who she was really talking to, who she had been really talking to all along.

"I've always loved her," Rune replied. "It has been one-thousand, three-hundred thirty years since I held her in my arms as she died, but in all that time, in all my lifetimes, my love for her has never so much as flickered. Through five lifetimes, Kyra, I have never stopped loving her, and have never stopped remembering her.

"I never considered my poetry skills much to talk about, but she did. She adored my work and called me her poet, so during the first Lutz's reign, I wrote poetry about her all the time. I completed seven collections of poetry about her. I'll show them to you sometime.

"During the second Lutz's reign," he continued, "I wrote my Piano Concerto in G major about all the good times we shared, and my Piano Concerto in F minor about waking in time to hold her in my arms one last time. And my fourth symphony was written as a musical biography of her life.

"The first few years of the third Lutz's reign was occupied by building the new Esper Mansion around the old, but after that was completed, I retired to Lutz's room and spent several decades sculpting statues of her, all of which are in one of the Elsydeon caves, in a portion of the caverns I call Andrea's Room. That's where I keep the poetry collections, as well.

"The fourth Lutz had a deep love of botany and gardening, but I called upon the third Lutz's proficiency in architecture, as well as my own talents, to help an isolated clan of Dezorian monks build a heated arboretum in their temple. They call its contents '^anduree^upum too^eegereel' -- Andrea's Garden -- and in the spring, oh Kyra, you should see it -- the flowers there bloom a bright green, the brightest green you'll ever see--"

"Just like Andrea's eyes," Kyra interrupted with a smile.

"Yes," Rune nodded. "Just like Andrea's eyes. Her gorgeous green eyes."

There was a long pause. Kyra finally prompted him to continue. "And you, Rune?"

From the other side of his robes, the side that did not contain the bouquet of flowers, he produced a book. "For the last five years," he began, "I have been traveling across Motavia. I've been everywhere on that planet, met as many people as I could. And I kept it all in this journal. From my first meetings with Grandfather Dorin, to searching the bottom of the sea for the ruins of Paseo, to my tours through the wasteland with Chaz Ashley's teacher, Alys Brangwin. It's all in here, Kyra."

Kyra covered her mouth with her hand. "Because she never got to go to Motavia."

"Yes," Rune nodded, smiling at her understanding. "She wanted to see Motavia so badly, but she got sick before we could go, so this journal... this is her trip, you see, Kyra? My travels on Motavia are for her. It's the trip, the trip she never got to take."

The Day of Awakening. The day she was born. The day she had died. And now, the day Kyra had found, at long last, the truth about Lutz.

"It's said he is still alive in the deepest depths of the Esper Mansion!" That's what Kyra had said two years ago, when she had been asked about Lutz. And that's the truth, Kyra said to herself with a smile. Except he's not at the mansion much. Usually he's traveling Motavia for his beloved.

She would be honored to serve as his Prolocutor.

Quietly, she dismissed herself, and started heading back towards Esper Mansion. She thought about waiting for Rune at the gate to the cemetery, but she had the feeling he would be in there for a long time. If she had stuck around, though, she later would have seen Rune Walsh stand before Andrea Larson's grave and say aloud:

[an error occurred while processing this directive]