"Is she all right?" a deep voice asked anxiously. After a few moments, she was able to place it.
"Galf?" she asked weakly.
"I'm here, Alys."
Alys. Oh, yeah. That's me.
"She'll be fine," said someone else. This voice was smooth as silk., a gentle purr, but something wasn't right about the gentleness, the comforting tones. "I'd say she just had a bad case of spell-shock." What was wrong? Maybe opening her eyes would help. She gave it a try. Her eyelids fluttered, but didn't quite make it open.
"What the blazes is that?" Galf demanded angrily. Scared angry.
"It happens to novice Espers sometimes, or even to masters if pushed too hard by carelessness or need. It's what happens if you try to draw upon power that you haven't got, when your reserves are tapped out but you cast a spell anyway."
She tried to open her eyes again. This time they worked. She could see the concerned face of the blue-haired man; he knelt by her side, supporting her head and shoulders.
"Rune?" she murmured, her speech somewhat slurred. Her tongue felt thick and the taste of bile was strong in her mouth. The sight of the Esper's face made her realize what had been wrong with his voice. "Why'ya bein' so nice?" she managed to say.
Rune's beautiful face curved into a scowl. Behind him, Galf burst out laughing.
"You saved all our necks, girl. Even a guy like Rune has got the sensitivity to appreciate that."
"Oh. We got'm?"
"You got him. Rune's spell hurt him, but whatever you did finished the job."
The fog was slowly starting to clear from Alys's mind as she worked herself back towards consciousness.
"What about the ghoul?" she asked. She had to enunciate each word carefully but managed to speak clearly this time.
"Apparently it wasn't a real ghoul," Rune explained. "When we came to, it was just standing there. Without orders from its master, it couldn't take any action. Galf and I made sure it wouldn't react; burning to ash is always a good antidote for animated corpses."
"What did you do to him, anyway?" Galf asked.
"I tried something like an airslash. It turned my slasher into a kind of spinning blade vortex instead. I suppose I ought to be thankful it did anything at all."
"Those weapon-magics tend to be very art-specific," Rune said. "Trying to apply a sword skill to a slasher...I'm not surprised that you passed out. You're lucky you weren't killed."
"Particularly, I'd think, since she never learned the airslash skill," Galf put in. Rune's face became an astonished mask.
"What. You've never done a weapon skill before?"
"Um...no...well, now I have..."
"So you just created a new one out of thin air, without training, without practice, and launched it in a combat situation?"
"It was either that or use a Foi and maybe bring the roof down on us."
Rune shook his head.
"I'm amazed you made it work. It takes training and practice for an Esper to learn how to call the power within them, let alone a normal person without an Esper's potential. That you succeeded is astonishing, and that you lived through the experience..." He shook his head again, clearly bewildered. "You must have incredible willpower."
Galf smiled warmly.
"That she does."
"Yay, me. Could someone help me up? This floor is getting less and less comfortable by the minute." Accepting compliments wasn't one of her comfort zones, either.
Galf offered her a big hand; Alys grabbed it and he pulled her to her feet. She wobbled a moment, then caught her balance.
"So, what now?" she asked. "Are we done? Is the world saved and all that?"
"Yes, I'd say so. There's nothing we can do for this region, but with the Nei techniques stopped the effect isn't going to spread further. I suspect it will repair itself if we give it enough time," Rune added. "Enormous natural forces are rarely overcome by short-term human activity. It's only that eons of history are one eyeblink in the planet's lifespan that make us think otherwise."
"Well, that and the occasional exploding planet."
"A point, Galf," Rune admitted, "but we hardly have that level of technology now."
"I'll have the Guild put out the word about the unstable techniques in this area," Galf said. "I'm sure it'll get around anyway, once the Valhallans pack up and leave, but there's a difference when it comes from a reliable source. That should cut down on future accidents."
Rune nodded, then went over to the dead man.
The dead man.
The first man Alys had killed. Well, there were the alley thugs, but that hadn't been intentional, or even really her fault, just an accidental chain reaction. This was different. She'd wanted him dead, she'd taken desperate action, and now there he was, a corpse. Wasn't she supposed to feel something? Deep moral shock as her feelings fought it out in her subconscious mind? Was it somehow easier because it had been to save Galf and Rune's lives? Or was she just still in shock and the weight of it was going to come crashing down on her later, probably worse than if she was facing it now?
Heck with it. She'd deal with the problem if it came up. Bad person dead, good people she liked (well, "tolerated," in Rune's case) alive. Insane world-threatening scheme stopped. Innocent lives saved. Not much to agonize over, if she thought of it that way.
Rune unhooked the thick zirconium-lined collar holding the three Cormar Stones from the man's neck.
"These aren't exactly safe as they are, either; I'll have to discharge them to prevent accidents."
"What are they for, anyway?"
"The Nei techniques apparently take more power than a human tech-user can absorb from the environment in a few moments. These crystals act like power batteries--don't give me that blank look; it means storage unit--to tap so combat techniques like Neizonde could be cast rapidly instead of taking extra seconds or minutes to use. You already figured out the rest about them."
"Could you reverse the process? Put the power back into the item the stone sucked dry?"
"Drain the stone by re-energizing the items? Possibly, depending on what effect the draining process had on the original items. If it's only a matter of refilling lost energy into the item, then yes, it would be quite possible. If the draining warped or destroyed the underlying spells that allowed the item to store energy, then no. There is a reason why items of power don't grow on trees."
"We know they don't. That's why there's five thousand meseta in it for us if you can fix our client's Fire Staff," Galf explained.
"I should have known it would be about money."
"I should have known your good mood couldn't last," Alys remarked.
"Let's just go pick up Derek and get going," Galf quickly intervened before things got out of hand. "Oh, yeah, and destroy all this crap. Sands, I don't want someone else finding the dead guy's notes and starting over."
"In that case, may I offer you a lift back to Zema?" Rune suggested.
"Bring Derek in here. The aftereffects of me using Ryuka to take us away should bring the roof down, unless I'm very much mistaken--which I'm not."
"Burying the man along with his life's work forever. He'd probably want it that way. I wonder, though..."
"Do you realize that we don't even know the tech-user's name?"
"Who cares, Galf? A thousand years from now, no one would have remembered it anyway...Damn it, Rune, what do you think is so funny?"
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This one is special to me. As it happens, the storyline of "Techniques of Chaos" was the very first idea for a Phantasy Star fanfic that I ever thought up. I mean, it's kind of obvious..."How Alys Met Rune" and all of that. I thought it up way back in 1995, about a year or so after I first played PS4, and long before I'd even encountered the PS online fan community. I'd gotten through about half of it, then got stuck and set it aside...
Somehow, in the interim, I finished, and published online in various locations, 116 other Phantasy Star fanfics, twenty-five of which feature Alys, to say nothing of those in other genres. Meanwhile, I read the translation of the Phantasy Star Compendium and realized that, oddly, my original story concept for "ToC" wasn't that far off what we knew. There was Alys as a trainee hunter, working under an experienced master. All I had to do was back a few years off her age and change the master's name to Galf, and there I was...The next thing I knew, I was rewriting chapters, introducing the character of the thief (I love the scenes of Galf and Alys chewing out Derek over "honor among thieves"--thiefly professional honor is nearly as silly as some of the samurai/knightly ethos, IMHO), fleshing out Every (bonus points if you noticed he was named after Henry Every, the pirate who taught Bartholomew "Black Bart" Roberts in real life), and working my way through the story. Joel Fagin helped me pre-read everything, which helped me, among other things, flesh out the darts game.
And now I've come full circle, finishing off my original idea after eleven years. So thanks to all of you who've followed me all the way through the end!