Phantasy Star V :

Siren's Way

A Phantasy Star Fanfiction By

Black Waltz 0


'For what we cannot accomplish, what
is denied to love,
what we have lost in the anticipation -
a descent follows,
endless and indestructible.'

-- William Carlos Williams


He awoke to a faceful of gritty sand, the kind that sinks in everywhere and is impossible to remove. He was almost entirely buried by it, the fluctuating tides over the course of many long weeks coating him with layer upon layer of burial sand. He had been sent to die here, and yet he was not dead.

Far off, in another fold of his dark buried world seagulls shrilled and cried overhead, riding the thermals of the stormy sky. There was a piercing scent of salt in the air, flavoring it sharp and biting, an unfamiliar sensation. The vibrations of an alien world, at least to him. He shifted about lazily, testing to see if each of his four limbs were functioning properly. He feared that a drop of water, or any kind of outer moisture would touch a live wire or a circuit in his body and then completely blow out all of his systems. He was utterly waterlogged and that made him a ticking time bomb.

Wren found some kind of leverage with his arms and pushed himself onto his knees, thick clumps of wet sand falling from his face and shoulder plates. Water dripped in constant streams from the seams in his armor and his hair. It was not fresh rain water, it had the salty tang of the sea. His eyes flicked up slightly, towards the tumultuous blue ocean. The tide was out, the water level of the beach receding. He vaguely had a brief memory of being in the very midst of that field of darkest blue, sinking like a leaden weight but trying desperately to swim, his heavy metal armor anchoring him down. He had sunk like a stone and then everything had gone unbearably black.

He could see huge thunderheads on the greying horizon. They grumbled and flashed with momentary bursts of concealed lightning. The storm was moving inward, reaching out to the land. That was why the seagulls were screaming and scattering about like small frightened children; the storm was on its way here. This type of weather was far too dangerous for it to be intentional, Wren feared that something had gone horribly wrong at the weather station, causing this freakishly large storm.

But then again, of course it was. That was why he was lying here like a discarded chess piece. That was why he had been left here to die.

The top priority for him right now was to find a way to dry himself out. Wren was waterproof up to a certain degree, but once he passed that degree all of his systems were in critical danger. It was raining, wet sand clung to him like it was statically charged, and once that storm hit his luck was almost certain to run out. It was a miracle in itself that he had managed to reactivate just before it broke.

Standing and feeling his heavy body sinking down even further into the loose sand, Wren accessed his internal systems to discern the approximate time. His biometric clock functioned flawlessly even when he was in the most advanced state of deactivation. The last time he had checked it had been four weeks, six days, eight hours and thirty four minutes ago. He had been lying here like driftwood for over a month. A miracle indeed. His global positioning system had more encouraging results. He was on a beach off the coast of Kadary, an eight hour walk to the nearest spaceport. That would be familiar territory for him.

He didn't bother to brush away the sand. Once he dried out it would sift harmlessly away from his body. Coldly, emotionlessly, Wren selected a direction along the beach and began to follow that path, his head bowed low so that the light chilling rain would not drip into his eyes. The cliffs drew higher in that direction and would offer him basic shelter from the elements and the storm, and especially from the lightning. Wren was wary of the lightning most of all, the ocean only had a small chance of killing him, but a single stroke of lightning from the heavens above would be an instant death sentence. He was, after all, a lightning magnet.

There was an abandoned wharf somewhere up the beach, the dull wooden planks and posts warped and broken by the constant violent waves and the passage of time. The sand was becoming coarser and more stable under Wren's feet, petering out into the rocky fragments of the coastal cliffs. The slick foundation of the forgotten pier was strangled with barnacles and decaying wisps of seaweed, revealing to him exactly how far the water would rise when the beach reached high tide. When the storm broke upon the land this area would become a hell on Motavia. With the cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, Wren appeared to be trapped, held in place by an invisible net as the lightning drew ever closer.

Siren had prepared this storm to make sure that Wren stayed dead. He was a cautious one, cautious enough to never make a mistake until now, but Siren was making hasty preparations to correct that particular error. The android waded silently back into the water, mindful of the horrendous risk that he was taking, but the ancient pier would never have been able to support his weight. He was going to get wet either chance he took and the rain was coming down even harder now.

A small rowboat was moored timidly to the side of the pier, secured to land by a single half-rotted rope. It rocked about and shook in the growing winds. With streams of water coursing down his face and dripping along his audio sensors and chin, Wren leant down and carefully snapped the old rope in half, releasing the boat from its anchor. It was almost certainly going to be lost soon and cast far out to sea, but Wren needed something from it first.

Its top was covered over by a large grey nylon tarp, the edges eaten away and ratty, but still quite waterproof. The inside of the rowboat was more or less dry. Wren methodically broke the thin strings that kept the tarp tied down and dragged it and himself out of the water, shaking out the moisture from the cover with a deft and mechanical flick of his wrists. He drew it over his body carefully, hoping that it would function like a cloak and keep him moderately dry, just as it had worked before. He couldn't risk letting the rain and the sea water reach his core.

He continued on at a plodding pace, walking against the path of the wind. He kept one of his hands clenched against his neck in order to keep the tarp in proper place. It protected his head, shoulders and back perfectly from the rain, but there was nothing he could do for his front which was pelted constantly with dangerous raindrops. Wren checked his GPS frequently during his trek, trusting it with all of the faith he could muster.

The cliffs would grow high all around him for many hours, yet a small path below would always remain constant and accessible, provided he was willing to become occasionally knee-deep in water . Eventually the cliffs would start to shrink again and he would have access to Kadary's wide wasted wilderness. From there he would be able to walk to adequate shelter. He was grimly looking forward to being back in his element again, the vast machines and computers that maintained the Algo solar system. He would be home again.

Close enough to home, anyway. How much would have changed in a month's time? To be honest Wren feared for the safety of the others and everybody else on the planet of Motavia, because he had no way of knowing if they were still alive or dead. He had not seen a living soul since he had come back to consciousness in the rain. Perhaps Siren had already completed his dirty work and everybody was dead. Perhaps Wren was already far too late. Maybe the bottom of the ocean was where he truly belonged.

These dark thoughts did not show up on his expressionless face. He was not used to thinking in this manner but he was grateful that it distracted his processor from an even more troubling thought in the back of his neural matrix. He didn't want to think about it, or what Siren might have already done. Wren halted for a moment in order to look out to sea, his cool grey eyes unharmed by the thick wet raindrops that splattered against his face. He witnessed the first few streaks of lightning slash across the sky, arched and jagged like shards of broken glass. Wren could feel the invisible currents of electricity charging the air. A storm, the perfect way to murder a rogue android.

Siren was a smart one indeed.

Wren turned back to the cliffs, picking up his pace as well as he was able. His long stay within the bedside of the ocean had allowed sand to infiltrate some of his inner joints, which made them hard to move and creaky, like arthritis. When he got home he hoped that he would be able to give himself a tune-up. For now though all he need do was put one foot out in front of the other until he was safe. As long as he kept things simple and took things immediately as they came, he would have no need to remember, not just yet. Wren could wait, physical exertion seemed to be the only thing that he could manage for now. Once he had been the caretaker of an entire planetary system, now he could barely take care of himself. Irony was never without a sense of humor.

Wordlessly, Wren pressed on. It was remarkably slow going, but soon he had the tops of the cliffs stretching over his head, protecting him from the rain and the lightning. He traveled from rock pool to rock pool, sometimes inching along wet rocks and concealed sandstone pathways. The tide rose unceasingly and furious waves buffeted the stones that Wren chose to climb or hide behind, only slightly protected by the spray. The tarp about his body was rapidly becoming a sopping mess, but slowly, at a snail's pace, Wren could feel his inner core and electronics beginning to dry out. As long as the water didn't reach any higher than his waist he would be fine.

Hours passed and the day turned to abysmal night. The android didn't cease his wandering, he merely paused for a brief second to switch his optics from colour differentiation to proper night vision. The land about him suddenly distorted into to a world of fuzzy green and black. There were no stars in the sky, the entire horizon for as far as Wren could see was blanketed with thick storm clouds, as puffy and dark as clotted molasses. Somewhere beyond those clouds was the space station Zelan, now the headquarters of the enemy. He had been robbed of his only home.

He felt an odd kind of anger in those thoughts, a sensation that felt completely alien to him. Wren had never had to experience what homelessness and a loss of purpose felt like, yet all it brought out was an irrational fury. It didn't seem right to him, so he locked that notion deeply away. It was distracting him from walking properly, he was thrown back into the world by the unexpected slip of his feet. Wren spread his arm out and braced himself against the wall of the cliff, nearly slipping over due to a single strand of slimy seaweed.

There was a deafening boom from the air and the sky lit up momentarily, casting over the land a brightness that was almost as potent as the sun on a hot spring day. Wren shielded his eyes from the flash and watched with silent wonder as a spire of rock peeking from the churning ocean exploded in a burst of light and sparks, sending rocky shrapnel hundreds of meters away in all directions. It was far down the coast but Wren could still see it clearly. It was a warning, a threat, as if Siren knew precisely that he was there.

Wren was almost free of the cliffs when the storm hit the land square-on. He climbed a small rock formation and pulled himself free from the shelter that the stones provided, swinging one leg over the side of the cliff's edge and then the other, standing on flat arid soil at last. A harsh wasteland stretched out in front of him, the grounds of shale and dusty sands doing nothing to soak up the rain from the sky. The water was puddling about in small murky pools, unable to be absorbed by the bedrock that was only inches below the surface. This wasn't the lively desert of Aiedo and Nalya, home to hundreds of subterranean life forms, this was a sterile desert that beget nothing, bereft of all life.

A few trees and stones were dotted here and there amidst the flat vacant landscape. The stones looked like giant discarded animals bones and the trees were leafless and twisted, undeniably dead. The sky was huge and menacing over the desert, choked with clouds. Wren had never seen it look so vast and enraged before. It was indeed angry, furious at him, mad that he had abandoned his post and given up. It would strike him down for being so impetuous, Wren knew it.

Crossing the desert alive would be near impossible during the storm. Wren looked about his surroundings with a cynical eye for opportunity. Lightning functioned in a notably simple way. It would strike out at the highest point in a landscape, taking the quickest route to the ground. Failing that, the white flashes of light would seek out anything made of a conductive material, of which Wren was wholly a part of. He could not take cover under the trees and stones, moving through the field at all would endanger his life. He couldn't wait out the storm either, Siren would have it running perpetually until he was satisfied. What could he possibly do?

The one thing that he was still certain of was that he couldn't stay in place for very long. That was a sure fire way to attract the lightning. Mournfully Wren considered the path ahead of him and started to move, trusting everything to a concept as immaterial as luck. There was nothing more that he could do except to walk. He had come so far and endured much pain and suffering, so if it all ended here in the middle of nowhere with nobody to bear witness Wren would feel just as he was feeling right now, miserable and useless. Was this the way that Algo's most faithful servant was to meet his end?

His pace picked up a little until he was almost running. The sand in his joints squeaked and squealed, warming up and almost generating sparks. Wren did not feel exhaustion in the way that an organic being usually experienced it, but he was quite capable of feeling pain. The pain did not slow him down, rather it prompted him to move even faster.

Running made him feel better. Now it felt like he was actually heading somewhere important. His spirits may have been low, but at least he was still moving. Wren kept his eyes upon the vanishing point of the horizon, planning, checking and rechecking his route for every heavy clanking step that he took. The sky lit up all around him again but this time he didn't pause to observe the spectacle, hearing an ear-splitting shriek and detecting the presence of burning wood and smoke. One of the trees behind him had been struck by lightning and exploded.

The world seemed to slow down all around him and Wren's AI went along with it. He became aware of the tarp flapping crazily about his body and the rain pouring down in thin sheets from the sky, of the way that the puddles seemed to explode every time he trod through one with his feet. His processor was trying to grab at any little bit of information that it could, just in case it could turn the tides of war in Wren's favor. Somehow, in some way, Wren had to fight against nature itself. It was not an android's fight. He knew quite well which side had the upper hand.

An idea came to him swiftly, like a download in his head had finally come to completion. Lightning would strike at a high point and always favor metal. It was risky, but it might just work. Ignoring the discomfort in his leg joints Wren continued to run, keeping half an eye out for obstacles in his way. His one free hand reached up to his chest and then crept under his makeshift cloak, fastening onto one of his shoulder plates firmly. It was thick armor, and it also protected his precious circuitry from monsters and the rain.

Wren pulled hard and ripped the plate free from his body with a metallic tearing sound. It was large and disc-like, he held it out in front of him like it was a dangerous weapon. His shoulder felt vulnerable and unprotected without it but he would have to make do. Wren remembered a friend from seemingly long ago who had used an item like this as a weapon. He had recorded her calibrations in battle as a matter of casual interest and also to improve his interactions with her when working as a team. Wren would have never guessed that he'd utilize her combat data ever again this practically, this desperately.

The android selected an angle far out in front of him and skidded to a halt, carefully drawing back his right arm. He had to make sure that the plate of metal stayed high in the air for the longest amount of time possible. Wren steeled himself and threw the disc as expertly as he could manage, trying to mimic Kyra Tierney's body movements in his own overly large frame.

The metal left his hands and Wren was immediately running once more, following the path that his throw had plotted out. It deviated from his GPS set track slightly and that was a bit of a bother, but Wren had also had to account for the wind's direction and the ferocity of the storm. Now that it was in the air he could barely even see it anymore.

It was a small shield, but it was a shield nevertheless. Thunder exploded all around him in a supernova of sound and Wren was lifted off his feet for one single CPU-freezing second, a bolt of lightning connecting with the metal plate and melting part of it instantly, while horribly warping and charring the rest of the material. Fine points of light rained down with the water and Wren thumped hard against the ground with his shoulder, his expressly vulnerable shoulder.

Something inside of him short-circuited, traumatized by the unexpected impact. Wren grunted softly and his fingers twitched, connected to his nervous system by the damaged circuits. Electricity leapt from his body and came in contact with the water all around him, spreading like fire when exposed to ample amounts of fuel. Wren convulsed, all his systems threatening to crash, pains sweeping through his body like a thorough ring of agony.

A whistle of air pierced through the sky and a thick crescent of metal speared the ground only a few feet away from where Wren lay, fused into the shape of a waxing moon by the lightning. Most of its body had been melted away. It had been tortured by the storm but it was still present, still there. It had survived. Wren opened his eyes and looked at it, his cheek pressed against the muddy dirt. A thought came to him sluggishly, an idea that he was not dissimilar. He could survive, too.

He didn't quite know how he had managed it, but Wren somehow found himself picking his body back up and standing, beyond all reason, beyond all logic. His nerves twitched regularly from an excess of electricity in his systems, but his balance was still intact. He couldn't die here now, he couldn't let Siren have his way with all of the Algo solar system. If metal could beat lightning, then Wren could beat Siren. Was one little insignificant piece of armor all it took to motivate him into action?

It seemed so. With all his systems screaming in pain Wren felt himself detached from it, picking up his tarp that had fluttered to the ground and drawing it around his body again. He moved forward at a thunderous pace, leaning down a bit to snatch up the piece of metal that he had dropped before. He should be able to use it again at least one more time.

It might have just been his shorting circuits and wires, but Wren had the slight impression that he could feel the particles of electricity gathering in the air, attempting to take form. It was something that only a machine could ever properly sense, never a living person. Wren cried out and uttered the first loud exclamation of sound that he had made in over a month. He tossed the crescent like a boomerang, throwing it into the heavens above. If he continued on like this maybe, just maybe, there was still a future left for him in Algo, no matter what that future might be.

There was still a depressingly long road ahead of him.



It is such a small, pitifully trivial expression. Mere words alone cannot express the multifaceted layers upon the true nature of cold, it is something that can never wholly be described, only felt. Rune felt the cold, deep down until it felt like his very essence was frozen solid. He was so cold that his body seemed to burn with jaded fire, bristling and burning all over. It felt like he was burning from the inside out. He was too cold to speak, too cold to shiver, almost too cold to breathe. Breathing in was like inhaling granules of poorly ground glass. Rune was trapped, caught up in a storm of his own.

The blizzard resembled the rages of Garuberk back when Dark Force had controlled the snows and the sky. A similar demon was doing the same thing again, walking in Dark Force's large and sinister footsteps. Rune had tried to stop him, others had tried too, but they had most likely met their fate as well, a unique death for each individual piece of rabble. Rune could still remember the shouts, the name that he had been called before everything had went to hell. Filthy Layan, filthy Layan.

His legs worked stiffly as they moved him onwards within the storm, sunk almost up to his knees in the rising drifts of snow. Gusts of chilly wind constantly assaulted his face until he could barely even open his eyes, his face tilted a little avoid the painful stings. He was hunched over slightly, his gloved right hand pressed tenderly against his shoulder, as if he was trying to keep himself from falling apart. Rune's long blue ponytail wavered in the storm unceasingly, the magician hearing only one long, loud sound; the perpetual howl of the storm.

There was no horizon, nothing for him to look forward to. He didn't even know where he was trying to go, all he knew was that he needed to get out of this storm before it was too late. There was no way for him to outpace it, but he still had to try. Rune gritted his teeth and willed himself not to break down, his body wanted to do it oh so dearly, but he was too important to die. Algo needed him, they needed the spirit of Lutz to keep them safe. If he died the memory of the Esper would die as well.

Rune fell. He coughed and that slight motion forced his knees to give out on him, drawing his body to the ground. He sunk into the snow like it was a bed made of goose feather, warm and inviting and safe. It was too hard to keep walking, he couldn't go on for another step. Rune stared at his knees, at how easily the storm was already trying to bury him with ice. His legs were being covered with snow at a phenomenal rate. Good, the cover would keep him warm. Smiling weakly he lost his balance and tumbled over, gladdened that he had been able to favor his better, whole shoulder.

Now he was lying on his side in a large snow drift, within the heart of Siren's artificial ice storm. He had been the largest threat, even more so than all the others. His green tunic under his cloak was darkened severely by a bloody patch spreading from his left shoulder, bleeding down his pristine clothes and seeping into the snow. In barely a minute the blood itself had also turned to ice. Siren knew that Rune would be clever enough to escape his ice storm, but he doubted he'd be able to do the same while severely wounded.

He seemed to be right. Rune believed that he was going to die. Ages earlier his legs and arms had gone completely numb, paralyzing his body and holding him there, but he had also felt in the center of his being a sort of warmth about him, caged within his chest. He thought it might have been his magical abilities, the ancient power within himself, but when he tried to twitch a hand and summon forth a Flaeli spell, any spell, as long as it generated heat, he could not even muster the energy to wiggle two of his fingers. It was useless.

Rune could imagine his hands, beneath his black velvet gloves darkening and decaying as frostbite set in, stealing his spell casting digits away from him. His eyelashes, encrusted with fine powdery snow fluttered, the blue-haired esper entering into the final stages of hypothermia and the true definition of the word cold. He felt a vast numbing exhaustion taking over his body and his mind, smothering it to death with icy blasts of wind. Was this the way that the Lutz legacy was meant to fade? Lost and alone? Defeated by an enemy during a time of great peace?

He was too tired to dispute it for very long. All people were equal during the time of their death. Rune closed his eyes and made a soft moaning sound, muffled by the snow that was piled up around his face. At that point he had at last given up. Siren had won.

The storm raged on.

That had been four weeks and six days ago.

Death was always a funny, fickle thing. A person could always spend their entire life fearing death and running from it, then finally making an acceptance of reality, only to have death pass them by and then feel cheated, robbed in some vital, incomprehensible way. Rune came back to life with only a single, grouchy thought within his head, which hurt and throbbed as if it had been beaten with a thick wooden plank. Rune wished that he had not woken up at all, because at least in that darkness there had been a lack of pain.

He had been found by a Dezorian hunter and his sister during the storm, their snow moles having been savagely attracted to the smell of Rune's spilt blood. They had dug him out of the snow and had begun to maul him, ripping at his already open wound. When the hunter had seen that Rune was not only a Palman but an esper as well, he was more than content to let the moles finish their work on his abused body. It was the sister that had saved Rune's life. She drove back the moles and forced her brother to make room on the sleigh for him, wrapping him with the freshly skinned pelts of Dezoris' wild animals and then taking him to their home.

Hypothermia and frostbite had indeed worked its way very deeply into his body, doing its dirty business. It was long before Rune was able to regain consciousness again, in his long regenerative coma the hunter and his sister were forced to remove two fingers and three toes from his unresponsive body. The gunshot wound in his shoulder was fine, it was allowed to be stitched back together and proceeded to heal. It had mostly been cauterized at the time it was made, burnt clean by a laser that had removed all chances of infection.

Almost every day the Dezorian brother and sister fought over Rune's fate. Each day the brother wanted to cease Rune's treatment and toss him back into the wilderness where they found him, but the sister fought for him to stay. She was a priestess of the Gumbian faith and she could sense great power and light coming from him, the strongest that she had ever felt before. It was this sensation, even more so than the smell of blood by the snow moles that had led her to him. If such light could truly exist in a person she was certain that it had to be protected at all costs.

Rune groaned when he woke up, groaned again when he first experienced the first jabs of fresh pain, and then groaned one last time when his surroundings came into proper focus. A Dezorian hunter's hut, small, squat and unappealing. It was formed by ice and blocks of stone, thatched carefully with dried ice weeds from a nearby valley. Furs and pelts were nailed to the walls and over the windows, insulating the room somewhat, but the major source of warmth in the hut came from a fireplace set in the middle of the room, creating a minimal amount of smoke. There were small blocks of stone set around the fireplace, stools for the owners of the house to sit upon and admire the heat of the flames.

His body felt hot and cold at the same time, too hot within and too cold without. It felt like that storm will still out there somewhere, unstoppable with limitless stamina. Rune was conscious but still rife with fever, blearily he noticed that he was no longer wearing his cloak and tunic, all he was clothed with were bandages bound tightly around his shoulder and his hand. His left hand and his feet throbbed painfully under the animal furs that were his blankets. The magician had a distinct feeling that he didn't want to know the reason why. It might be too awful to contemplate.

Gently he caressed the bandages around his shoulder wound. It didn't feel nearly as bad as he had imagined it would be. It felt mostly healed. Rune looked at his right hand. It was whole and undamaged. Thank the Great Light for that.

The front door opened, or more accurately, the large animal fur that was stretched over a wide arch was brushed aside. A tall green Dezorian ducked as he tromped inside the house, covered from shoulder to toe in fine, freezing cold snow. Standing upon the threshold he began to gruffly brush it away, his long-fingered hands ploughing great tracks of brown furry pelt through the snow-encrusted surfaces, allowing it to fall unheeded to the dry ice weed floor. He had a grim, pessimistic look about him, one subject to the harsher aspects of the land. This Dezorian seemed to be no stranger to strife.

He cast a brief, withering look at Rune sitting up in bed from his peripheral vision. The esper knew that the Dezorian had seen him in the way that his body tensed for a bare fragment of a second and then continued on as if nothing significant had happened. The Dezorian's narrow, slitted eyes turned to a small coat rack that was nestled in a corner of the room. He walked towards it freely, because this was his house and he was the master of it. "Awake, are you?" He asked in a curt, no nonsense tone. "Good, from now on you can find your own damn shelter. If it were up to me you'd be a frozen block of ice three miles yonder this hut, esper."

Rune was not used to being spoken to in this manner, like he was a piece of offal that had gotten stuck to the heel of this Dezorian's work boots. He may have been wracked with the heat of his fever, but Rune was still Rune. "Not much of a shelter." He said in an uneven, weak voice, the first words he had spoken in over a month. His throat felt like it had been lined with gravel and sounded accordingly.

The Dezorian took off his hunting coat, hanging it reverently on the coat rack. There were other coats there as well, some of them seeming to be tailored for a more feminine body. The Dezorian was wearing a grey padded tunic underneath his coat, insulated against the extreme cold. Whoever he was, he appeared to be quite prepared and equipped for the storms outside. He sneered spitefully. "I'd expect a smart alec remark like that from someone like you. You're all the same, filthy and arrogant."

It wasn't the animosity in those words that startled Rune badly, but the words themselves. One word, to be precise. Filthy. Somebody had recently called him that before, and it was incredibly important that he know who. The answer was just out of his reach, obscured by his fever. He was sure that he'd remember perfectly, in time. Rune put a hand to the side of his face and winced when the action hurt a lot, much more than it was supposed to. He looked at his left hand. It was bandaged tightly and something very vital to him was missing.

When the Dezorian kicked off his thick and heavy works boots, after having left puddles of melting water all over the threshold, it could be seen that he was wearing light moccasins underneath. It was protections like these that prevented the spreading of frostbite that Rune had been subjected to. He noticed Rune's surprising new discovery and smiled unkindly. "That's what you get for travelling like a moron, esper. Looks like you can only count up to eight now."

Rune turned his hand this way and that, palm up and then palm down. The ring and pinky finger of his left hand had been carefully cut away, leaving only two tiny little stumps that hurt ferociously whenever he tried to move them. He was not a left-handed magician and he supposed he should have been thankful for that one small boon, but more than ever he felt shocked and cheated. Rune was the fifth incarnation of Lutz, it didn't quite register with him on how such loss could be possible. "I…" He began, but then realised he had nothing to say, at least to this callous Dezorian.

"Gisarg! Who are you talking to?" Came a voice from outside, and a second Dezorian stepped into the safety of the hunter's small home. This one was shorter and thinner than the first, with less of a pug-like nose and with much softer features. A woman, Rune guessed, more from the way that she carried herself rather than her physical appearance. The male Dezorian seemed to shrink away from her too and that was a dead giveaway. The ghost of a smile touched Rune's lips briefly, for a few moments having been distracted from his pain and his predicament.

"Your 'project' has woken up at last. You can finally get rid of him now." Gisarg instructed, folding his arms and looking at the girl, then he gestured towards Rune with a quick tilt of his head. The girl looked towards Rune and jumped a little, as if she had never expected him to be conscious and awake. The male Dezorian huffed. "Just take him somewhere and leave him there. He takes up too much space and there's a suspicious stink about him."

"Shame on you, Gisarg. Whatever happened to your sense of charity?" She chided, hitting him gently in the arm. Her companion grunted but didn't say anything else. The female Dezorian made her way over to Rune's bedside, but not before removing her coat and boots and safely putting them away, so that they wouldn't drip water all over the hut once the scattered snow began to melt. She sat down on a chair that was situated on Rune's left. "Why don't you go and feed the sleigh moles while our guest and I have a friendly little chat?"

"What? But I just got undressed!" He growled, growing annoyed.

"Would you let your prize team starve to death?" The girl questioned, looking at the other Dezorian carefully. It was a trained expression, she had controlled him in this manner many times before. If there was one thing that Gisarg loved above all else, it was his precious sleigh moles. He would not be able to work as a monster hunter without them.

Gisarg sighed and threw up his hands in defeat, reaching for his coat again that was still hanging on its rack. It must have been frigid outside, no wonder he didn't want to go. Putting on his boots again he slipped back out into the storm, disappearing immediately into the snow, as if the weather had washed away all traces of his existence. The Dezorian turned back to Rune and smiled. She appeared to be a nice girl, if a little strange. "It's not like Gisarg is a bad person," she began, "it's just that he's had a bit of a tough life and certain things put him off. He can really be quite nice when he tries hard enough."

"…Doesn't seem like he's trying very hard." Rune rasped, hoping that if he kept on speaking his voice would improve. He felt so very stiff, sore and hot, even the rare gust of icy wind that came into the room from the bottom of the entry arch didn't seem to help. He felt grateful that he was still alive, grateful to the girl if she had had any part of it. As the other Dezorian had said, the choice to save his life had not been up to him. Thank the Light for that.

The girl brightened suddenly and then clapped her hands in delight. "You speak english!" She announced, pleased. "That's good. I was worried that you'd only know esper and I have so many questions for you! What's your name? Are you from the Mansion? What were you doing out there in the wilderness in the middle of the storm? There are no villages for miles around and Gisarg and I couldn't figure out how you had gotten so far without collapsing sooner. Were you using magic?"

Rune blinked as he was pummeled with various questions. There was no way that he'd be able to answer them all in time. He raised his mutilated hand slowly, trying to get her to realise that she was talking way too fast, that she was babbling. "Hold on," he murmured, disgruntled, "my head's not on straight right now. I just woke up and it feels like somebody's roasting a turkey inside my body. I have questions too. How about we take turns, one question at a time?"

"Oh gosh… my manners, they flew right out the window. Please forgive me." The girl said apologetically, then bowed her head to him, embarrassed. "I haven't even introduced myself yet. My name is Raii Laerma and the man who was talking to you earlier is called Raii Gisarg. He is my older brother, but when it comes to who is taking care of who everything is a matter of opinion. My brother and I saved you from the storm."

She certainly talked a lot. Rune raised one eyebrow at her. "Laerma?" He asked, perplexed. "As in-"

Laerma beat him to it. She had had this conversation many times before and knew how it went. "Yes, the name means nut, nutcase, or nutshell. I like nutshell the best. I am who I am, in a nutshell. That's me." She started to giggle. Although she had clarified it to people a million times in the past, the bad joke never ceased to amuse her. The strange look on Rune's face was one of the very best she had coaxed out of people. It was uplifting. "My uncle named me. He has a rather… unique sense of humor. What's your name, esper?"

When Gisarg had said the word 'esper' he had pronounced it like he had been exhaling toxic fumes, spitting the word out like a hairball. Laerma pronounced it differently, in her voice it sounded distinctly musical. She did not seem to hate espers as badly as her brother. "My name is Rune. It means an ancient pictogram alphabet. The espers use runic as a tool in order to transcribe their knowledge onto paper, and that is where I got my name. Not as witty as yours, I'm afraid." Rune held up his bandaged hand again. "How did this happen?" He asked, referring to it.

"When we brought you back here both your hands had gone completely black from frostbite. Your feet, too. I used all the blessings and prayers that I had in order to exorcise the plague demon of ice from your body, and I did manage to purify most of it out of your system, but in the end Gisarg had to cut away at the dead flesh. I'm sorry, Rune. If my powers had been greater you would have been entirely cured."

He felt a strangely sick sensation erupt in the pit of his stomach when he imagined how much fun Gisarg must have had at hacking away at his fingers and toes. He tried to put a good face on things, because at least Laerma had tried to help. He wasn't exactly good at comforting people though, in fact he royally sucked at it. Rune grinned feverishly. "Hey, if it weren't for you two I would have wound up being a perfectly preserved glacial fossil. I was lucky enough that you turned out to be a priestess. You are a priestess, aren't you? Us espers can smell holy light from miles away."

"A Gumbian priestess." She agreed, relaxing a little because Rune didn't seem to blame her for the loss of his digits. "Espers aren't the only ones that can smell out holy light, our priesthood can do it pretty good as well. I've sensed espers before from afar, they burn like they bear an inner flame. But while I was out in the middle of the blinding storm, when I passed by the drift that hid your body I suddenly felt like I had walked into the sun." The green-skinned girl paused, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. "There's a big difference between a pyre and the sun. What were you doing out there in the middle of nowhere?"

"…These are storms that are as bad as the storms of Garuberk, maybe even worse. The temperature will drop until all Palmans on this planet will die from the cold. It nearly killed me, so I'm guessing that that point must be getting pretty close. It won't stop there. The climate will slowly continue to worsen until the Dezorians are gone too, and then all possible life on this planet will cease to exist. I was trying to stop that from happening, but I was beaten and punished," Rune carefully touched his healing gunshot wound without much thought, "and was dropped down here to die."

"Great Light," Laerma whispered in a small hushed voice, "who would do such a thing? Why?"

Rune knew who but couldn't quite put his finger on it at the time. The first person who came to mind was Wren, but that couldn't be right because Wren was one of the good guys. Sure, the android could be a little dull and boring at times, but that didn't make him bad. Still, for a moment Rune couldn't get the thought of the Wren-type out of his mind. He shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts away. "I... can't remember right now." He admitted, hating the idea that the reverent Lutz had temporarily lost a few of his marbles.

Luckily Gisarg had performed his chore relatively quickly, re-entering the hut in the nick of time. He had looked relatively bitter beforehand, but now he was positively surly. He didn't bother to remove his coat or his boots, yet he stood beyond the hut's entrance arch with the pelt of animal fur falling closed behind him. "There goes my half hour of rest and relaxation," he muttered in a low tone, "come on, Laerma. We have to leave now if we want to be in time for the evening Mass. You can talk to your pet esper later."

The 'pet esper' immediately came to the conclusion that what Gisarg really needed was a good strong Tandle where the sun didn't shine. He had a great many scathing comments that he could deliver with ease, but chose not to act because no matter what he was called he still owed these people his life. Without taking his eyes off Gisarg he said to Laerma in a quiet voice; "Go ahead. I'm not going anywhere for now. Maybe my memory will be better once you get back. By the way…"

The Dezorian girl leaned in closer to listen to his whispering. "Yes?" She asked.

"I want to kick your brother off a cliff."

She snorted away a burst of potential laughter and stood, answering him out loud. "You have no idea how many people have told me that." She chimed, looking at Rune happily. "You'll tell me the rest when I get back, right? Don't forget!"

Laerma seemed to have some kind of strange gift. Even though Rune was in pain, even though he was lost and annoyed and unsure of what to do, the girl was succeeding in putting him in a good mood. "I won't forget." He replied, raising a hand to wave goodbye, but then he realized that it was hard to wave with only three fingers so he switched to his right.

The moles were barking impatiently outside. Their grey-white fur blended them in perfectly with the storm, but Gisarg had excellent eyesight and could tell them all apart from yards away. He had fed them their meal of snow worm entrails and had lashed them back into their sleigh. Travel by snow mole was really the only method left for getting across places in Dezoris, walking was now simply impossible. Laerma hopped into the sleigh's frontal crib and covered herself over with protective furs, safeguarded against the ice and the wind. She huddled into the smallest ball that she could manage and waited.

Gisarg unraveled his taming whip and cracked it expertly in the air, testing it out. If his voice couldn't be heard over the howling gusts of wind his whip would certainly do the job. He stepped onto the forked wooden rail attached to the back of the sleigh, designed for the driver to stand on. The male Dezorian cried out a word in his native tongue harshly, almost loud enough to sound like a scream. The whip lashed out and struck the head mole against the back of its neck, lightly and quickly, stinging for only a few short seconds. He wanted to get their attention, not hurt them.

The sleigh slowly began to creak into life as his team of half a dozen moles started to pull against their harnesses. It was the starting that was the hardest part, once the sleigh built up some momentum everything would be as easy as pie. Gisarg held on tightly with his free hand, still ready with the whip if one of his team decided to slack off today. They rarely did. After all, each of the moles already knew that Jut was a refreshing run away. This was part of their daily schedule.

Back at the hut Rune had laid down again, still hurting, still fatigued, but not forgotten. There were still people alive on this icy planet. The enemy had not won yet. Rune may have been a filthy Layan or whatever the hell it was that he had been called, but he was still alive. That was a victory for the good guys in itself.

And Rune was burning for revenge.


Wren was a total mess by the time he got to the doors of Motavia's only spaceport.

He was heavily favoring one leg and limping as he walked, his back bent and his shoulders hunched as if he were carrying a great invisible burden. The waterproof tarp around his body was more ragged than ever and barely offered him even minimal protection now, while his ripped and ravaged body was soaked and sparking with electricity. His restorative functions had not kicked in like they were supposed to, hours ago, and that meant serious trouble. Life-threatening trouble, if possible. Wren walked to the doors of the spaceport slowly, but when he reached its cold metal surface he did not open it, instead he leant forward, face-first against the door, touching synthetic flesh to steel.

This was what it felt like to have hit rock bottom. To have gone so far and done so much that when he finally found safety and a physical reprieve from pain, the only sort of feeling that he could muster from the pit of his neural matrix was an empty sensation of deepening despair. The entry to the spaceport was shaded by a futuristic sort of verandah roofing, but Wren was still quite aware of the puddle of water that he was spreading all over the floor. The makeshift cloak he had been wearing fell to the ground once he had finally let go. His cybernetic body underneath it was greatly stripped of its armor and any other detachable pieces of metal, because he had been forced to sacrifice a lot in order to make it through the storm.

He had literally gotten very close to pulling himself apart. Wren twitched and stood up again in order to get a quick look at his surroundings. He had had quite enough of nature to last him another century or two. The lights of the spaceport were out. That was a bad sign. Wren punched his access code into the electric door lock but knew it was a fruitless effort even before he had finished. The screen didn't light up as it was meant to do when his metal fingers brushed against the touch-activated surface. It seemed like all power had been cut out.

There was too much electricity in the weather and none at all where it was meant to be. Wren took a step back and regarded the door carefully, trying to deduce if the door had a hydraulic release system installed. That sort of system was standard issue in space stations and orbiting weather satellites, but he wasn't quite sure if the expense had been made on the ground-based facilities. If that system was not installed then Wren believed that he could simply wrench the doors apart with his bare hands. If he was unlucky, however, then he would not be able to budge it an inch. Not only nature, but technology itself would be working against him.

Wren flexed the metallic muscles and tendons in his arms and struck the two doors in the center of where they met, split along its seam. It crunched and molded against his hard fist, crumpling like mere tinfoil. The impact made a low hollow booming sound, a singular percussion in the midst of near silence. The only other sound was the pouring rain. Wren pulled his hand away and was satisfied to see that a small hole had opened up between the two closed doors, large enough for him to fit his fingers inside. The android balanced his weight evenly within his body and braced his feet against the ground, getting ready for the inevitable strain.

He fit one hand against each side of the door and pulled. At first he felt nothing and was assured of the fact that he had been right, hydraulics had been installed on Motavia and all his efforts were for naught. He experienced a scalding, searing pain in one arm as a flayed tendon in his body snapped and sent a lance of white hot fire through his nervous system, clenching around his forearm and his knuckles. Wren persisted hopelessly, despite the pain. In the end the door had been caught against a slip in the lower rail of the floor, a simple system falling into disrepair because of lack of use.

Once Wren had worked his way around the catch the doors opened easily, bending smoothly to the force of his will. The android stumbled inside and didn't bother to close the doors again, - that would have been far too much work. It was a huge relief to have a roof over his head once more, to be protected from the lightning and the rain. Wren ran a hand through his wet black hair and looked into the dark dead hallways, seeing every nook and cranny with ease. It was still night time on the planet of Motavia and his night vision was still very much in effect.

He limped around trying to find a terminal that had an ethernet connection to the outside world, beyond the radius of the storm. Wren had managed to secure his top priority in the light of this recent crisis, namely, his own temporary survival, and now he could drop back down to priority two, to establish communication between himself and his friends. He didn't know if they had survived past the advent of their, of his horrible failure, but he hoped that they had. He didn't want to be the only one left alive, not he who had started this whole mess in the first place. He, perhaps, who had caused it all nearly a thousand years ago with the single pull of a trigger.

Wren found a serviceable computer after a few minutes of searching and was completely unsurprised to find that it was out of power, utterly dead. He opened the power point hidden in the underside of his upper arm, usually reserved to power his weapon and extended a long black cable, connecting himself to the power board of the computer. If the terminal had no backup battery to leech energy from, then he would just have to be its battery instead. Wren knew his limits, he would sever the connection before the strain on his body became too great.

The computer coughed into life. Wren felt a faint daze come upon him from the theft of his artificial life-blood but ignored it. Swiftly his hands worked on the terminal keys, accessing the emergency broadcast system. He could send a signal to each of Algo's support systems, except for Zelan, and just hope fervently that the others were stationed at one of those other systems. It was more than likely that Zelan would pick up his pirate broadcast no matter what he did to safeguard against it, but he still had to try.

"Hel-lo, this is de-designation For-ren mod-el one th-thousand and eighty th-three cal-ling Ch-az Ash-ley. Cal-ling Ch-az Ash-ley. De-designation For-ren mod-el one th-thousand and eighty th-three cal-ling Rune Wal-sh. Cal-ling Ri-ka. Cal-ling Ha-hn Mah-lay. Can anybody he-ar me? Please re-spond. This is an emer-gency. De-designation For-ren mod-el one th-thousand and eighty th-three re-requests aid. Please re-respond…"

He was probably talking into the darkness, talking to the ghosts of the dead. He could hear in his own damaged voice that he was more broken than he originally thought. It was useless. Nobody would respond. Wren was about to pull the plug on the computer terminal with a heavy heart when a second screen popped up, one that he had not asked for himself. It was a reply.

The first thing that showed up on the reply screen was the background of a support facility, huge thick metal walls that were not only holding up the building, but were also part of an immeasurably large computer as well. The lights were low, dim and pulsing in the background. Over there the power was still on. A rustling sound came from the computer's speakers and he heard a faintly slurred voice, of one either heavily drunk or immensely tired. "Now, when you mean model one thousand and eighty three, what exactly do you mean? Who is this? If you are one of Siren's androids I can trace you."

Any reply was better than none at all. Wren all of a sudden understood that he was using terms that none of his friends would be able to understand, an old distress signal programmed into him after the Great Collapse. He berated himself for his foolishness. "Ne-gative." He replied, hoping that they would hear him out. "Th-is is Wr-en of Ze-lan cal-ling his fri-ends. Wr-en of Ze-lan begs a res-ponse. Please re-ply."

Somebody sat down in front of the computer screen. It took Wren a moment longer than usual to judge that this man was Hahn Mahlay. He looked nothing like his former self. He was easily twenty pounds lighter and appeared ten years older than the last time Wren had seen his face, with dark circles under his eyes and several days of unchecked growth on his chin. It looked like Wren was not the only one who had suffered over the past month. The one thing Hahn needed most in the world right now was a hot meal and a good night's rest.

He leant forward and looked closely at the android standing in front of the computer terminal, the bright light of the monitor washing over his body and face in the dark room. It did indeed look a lot like Wren, his friend, but the android seemed to be a little bit smaller, less intimidating. His wet black hair was plastered to his face and cheeks and his body appeared to be dusted with damp sand and dirt. Wren had gone missing weeks ago. Hahn had presumed him dead or destroyed. The scholar sat back in his chair and tried to figure out what to do. "I've seen a lot of different androids since Zelan was taken over," he admitted with a deep sigh, "how can I be sure you are who you say you are? You don't look right, and you don't sound right either."

He didn't sound right because his sound card was damaged and probably cracked. He didn't look right either because the charred and melted remains of his Guardian armor were scattered all about the Kadary plains. Wren felt a sense of annoyed anger swell up from inside of him, directed at the wasted form of his friend. He didn't run through an electrical storm pulling his body to pieces just so that Hahn would have the luxury of refuting him! This anger was very unlike him, he forced it away before it became evident on his face.

Instead Wren tried to think of a way to prove his identity to his friend. He remembered Rykros and the five treasures that they had been made to keep safe. Wren was still wearing his, he hadn't taken it off since the very moment it had been entrusted into his care. It was quite special to him, it reminded him of his distant origins. He held the back of his hand up to the computer screen, drawing attention to it. The android stared at Hahn grimly. "D-Do you recog-nise th-this, Ha-hn?" He asked.

It was a ring. Fixed in a band of pure white laconia lay a small perfectly round opal, coloured in swirls of green, blue and white. It was the third Ring of the Stars, out of a set of five. The Palma ring, symbol of great life and great loss. The astral entities had given it to him long ago, and only Wren could wear it, nobody else. It was oddly ironic in a way, that the ring of life had to be worn by somebody who had so little of it himself. Hahn looked well upon the laconia ring, a small smile spreading across his face. With it came the old semblance of the original Hahn, faint but definitely there. "Well I'll be damned," he muttered softly, "it really is you, Wren! Where have you been all this time? We thought you were gone!"

"I am n-not qu-ite sure of th-that my-self at th-the mo-ment." Wren explained carefully, aware that he needed to be brief. He couldn't keep the computer terminal on for much longer. "I am hea-vily dam-aged and in ne-ed of seri-ous re-pair. My lo-cation is th-the space-port sou-th ea-st of Ka-dary. Please hur-ry, I mu-st sev-er th-the con-nection now."

"Hey, wait a minute!" Hahn exclaimed sharply, standing up from his chair right before Wren was about to pull the plug on the terminal, prompting the android to pause and listen. The scholar was grinning now. "You said the spaceport, right? That's barely an hours' walk from here! Chaz, Rika and I are hiding out in Nurvus! Why don't you come down here and we can have a little reunion together? I'll go wake up the other two." He turned to leave.

"Th-That is n-not poss-ible."

"Huh? Why not?"

"It is rain-ing hea-vily out-side. M-My rest-orative equip-ment is bro-ken. I would d-die if ex-posed a-gain to th-the rain." He reasoned, then added as a short afterthought; "Please come so-on."

He pulled the plug. The screen went dead at the very moment in which Hahn opened his mouth to reply. The young scholar had looked like a wraith, a refugee from some horrible and evil war. What would Chaz and Rika look like? Would they be the same? Also, Wren had noticed that Hahn had not said a word about Demi, even though they were using her adopted facility as a base. It meant that she was still missing in action, just as he had been. That was very, very troubling. She was vital to keeping Motavia stable.

Wren retracted the power cable back into his body and stared blankly at the dead screen. Demi, Rune and himself had been captured at the same time while the others had escaped. Perhaps she had met a fate similar to his, to be pushed into the salty Motavia ocean. He had been pushed by the hand of a friend, by the hand of a traitor. Never in a thousand years had he expected to see that face again, now so full of hatred.

Siren was to blame for it all.

Slowly, with the gait of an old man waiting to die, Wren, the former control android of the space station Zelan and caretaker of the Algo solar system limped over to the wall and leant his back against it, the strength voluntarily leaving his legs. He slid down lower and lower until he found himself sitting on the cold floor. He was broken all right, broken in more ways than one.

In a remarkable show of emotive body language, Wren leant forward and held his head in his hands, waiting silently and counting down the minutes until his friends came.


All Rune could do was sleep.

The Dezorians had taken his clothes earlier while he had been in his coma and the blue-haired esper didn't relish the thought of walking about in the nude, especially on a chilly planet such as this. Rune had been born and raised here on Dezoris, he knew the place like the back of his hand, but no Palman in the history of Algo would ever be able to become completely accustomed to the cold. Rune liked to think that he was one of the very few that came close.

But the bed was a hundred times more inviting than the thought of anywhere else so Rune rolled over onto his side and curled himself up into a half fetal position, pulling the fur covers over his head to block out any outside noises. Once he fell asleep his dreams were vivid and fragmented, drawing upon his own memory and the memories of all the Lutzes that had come before his time. In the midst of all that there was a figure made of steel, an ancient golem from a forgotten time and a forgotten place, who's only true discernable feature was his mussed-up hair, as red as the fires of hell.

The figure had grabbed him and Rune had been unable to put up any kind of resistance, as frozen as a dummy found commonly in the nature of dreams. The pressure on his arm was so great that he felt the bone snap under the golem's strength. Rune roared in pain and ripped himself away from that grasp, stepping backwards and falling off a cliff.

Two Wren-type androids were facing one another, one smaller than the other. The bigger Wren had his gun pointing at the smaller Wren's face, and that androids was trembling violently, like a scared living being. 'Goodbye.' The big Wren said and fired, blowing apart his companion's head and sending a scattering of positronics and microchips all over the ground.

Rika sitting cross-legged upon the floor, lacking her claws and battle gear, crying into her cupped hands that were pressed against her face. Chaz Ashley sprawled on the ground, unconscious, blood pouring from his nose and his right hand, impaled upon his own sword. A spaceship, bigger than any he had ever seen before. It reminded him of an entire planet. Vague snatches of words from another world, spoken with an echo. 'Hey Rune! Try jumping! Maybe you'll fly away!'

Finally the esper saw Demi tied to a metal chair with thick chains around her hands, arms and feet, the small android leaning forwards and to the side a bit, her artificial eyes bright with fear. 'I'm not a filthy Layan!' She shouted and Rune was shouting with her, through her, both with the same frantic thoughts on their minds.

The golem walked away into the swirling mists of his dream, his gun in one hand and a severed Palman arm in the other, dripping blood. He was laughing.


Rune was gently shaken awake by a pair of delicate green-skinned hands. It was night time when he opened his eyes, annoyed that his sleep had been broken but glad that his dreams had come to an end. The room was bathed in candlelight, bathed in a low warm glow. Rune blinked slowly. Siren. That was right. It all had to do with Siren. He remembered now. Those foul memories were almost like a physical headache, a needle in his mind. He couldn't believe that he had almost forgotten everything, everything that had happened since the advent of the disaster.

Laerma was looking over Rune, worried. Her big brother had dropped her off home after Mass had ended and he himself had gone out drinking with some of his friends from the town. He would not be coming home until the middle of the night and she had hoped to hear Rune's story in the meantime, before he got back. Instead she had found the esper tossing and turning in his sleep, moaning out noises that were almost words, but not quite. The only thing she could think of to do was to wake him, break him free of the nightmares. Laerma had thought that people with so much light in their souls never had nightmares, but she guessed she was wrong. Maybe it made them susceptible to the darkness even more so.

"Are you okay?" The girl asked meekly, pulling her hands away as Rune sat up in bed. He was looking down upon the covers and holding his mouth with one hand, as if he feared that he was going to be violently ill. His light blue eyes looked intensely afraid. Laerma wondered if he had noticed that she was even there. "Rune? Are you alright?"

"It's all fallen apart…" He whispered in a soft tone of voice, then tilted his head towards the Dezorian priestess sitting beside him. Rune seemed to gather his bearings then. He smiled, covering up whatever it was that had terrified him earlier. When Rune was afraid he iced over those feelings with a sheet of cool indifference. It worked well without, but not within. "Uh, never mind. Thanks for waking me up. I think I've slept enough to last me for a long while, don't you think? What's up?"

"I was just wondering if you'd tell me your story now that Gisarg isn't here. Is your memory any better?" She questioned as she lit a candle with two fingers, calling up the fire using her faith and her force of will, instead of matches or flint and tinder. The flame had a pale, unnatural glow about it. It was Dezorian magic, a prayer light that would dispel the darkness. Laerma hoped that it would ward against further nightmares. She held the candle in both of her hands as if it was a holy artifact.

"It's clearer than it was before." He explained, smiling ironically. "Actually, that's not quite true. I guess it all would become as clear as a bell if I worked through it all over again from scratch, but it is, as they say, a long story. It's not a very pleasant one, either. Are you sure you want to hear about it?"

Laerma was unperturbed. "I'm very interested." She said, like those small words would explain everything in the world. "It's not just a casual interest. You're suffering from something deep inside yourself and not even the limitless light that permeates through your body can hide it. Even though you have escaped from great suffering people who remember and regret are rarely free. Talking about the past can help a lot, and besides," she smiled, "everybody says that I talk way too much. It's about time I started to listen."

Could she really see that, right when Rune had only just discovered that darkness himself? That was the difference between an esper and a priest, espers focussed on the refinement of the body and the mind, while priests focussed on the purity of the heart and soul. Perhaps a confession was exactly what he needed. "Alright." Rune said, giving in. "Where should I start?"

Pleased, Laerma started to beam. She was looking forward to many fine hours of storytelling and the chance to help this man. "Just start at the beginning, and when you get to the end," she giggled, "stop."

Those words sounded familiar, like it was a famous quote. She was a nutcase alright. "Well, like most huge stories, it all started with a feeling." He said.

"A feeling?"

"Yeah. A feeling of doom."