"Nothing of what I tell you must go past this chamber, do you understand?"
The Elder nodded. He lifted an eyebrow; he was surprised at Rune's sudden seriousness. Normally he would have insulted the old Esper five times by now.
"I swear by Alis." he said.
They stood in the Elsydeon Chamber. Of all rooms in the Esper Mansion, this was the safest. Nobody but the Elder, Rune and his Protectors even knew of its existence. Nobody went down here any more. They had no reason to. The Elsydeon was gone, shattered in the final battle against the Profound Darkness.
Not that anyone would have broken a vow of secrecy made with the Fifth Incarnation of Lutz himself. What was Rune so afraid of? The Elder had never seen him even care about making promises or keeping secrets before in his life. And the way he was pacing, not lounging on the dais where the Elsydeon had been, the look in his eyes as though he hadn't slept for a week. He wasn't sure how to deal with Rune when he needed help so badly that he actually admitted he needed help.
"Its about the Telepathy Ball." said Rune, "About Lutz."
"Ah, you mean when you inherited Lutz's will and memories?"
"I think something went wrong with the procedure." said Rune, "I think I need to fix it right away. I need as much information as possible, and you're the only person I know has any information whatsoever."
"I think I have a few manuals locked away in my personal library." said the elder, "I shall go and look for them right away."
Rune nodded. He waited for the old man to leave, then sat down on the dais, looking up at the ceiling of the dim cavern, watching water drip down into a puddle in front of him. Waiting... He had never liked waiting. Now it was worse. He couldn't afford to get bored. He couldn't let his mind wander. He had to stay in full control. He had to...
This place reminded him oddly of her...
How did he get here anyway? The last thing he remembered, he was in the Corona Tower... no, it was the Gumbious Temple now, the old tower long fallen into ruin and a Temple built over its foundations... talking to the Bishop. He had been a nervous-looking young initiate when he first knew the man, but at least he was someone to talk to, someone who remembered. Now he was here... he didn't like surprises. It was always a shock when he woke up to find his body the same and everything around him changed. Except now this definitely wasn't his body. It was pleasantly stronger – his own had grown so frail lying in stasis for so long – but it didn't quite have the raw potential for channelling telekinetic energy. You always had to sacrifice physical health for mental potential. That was the first thing he had found out as a student. There was no such thing as a free lunch. And it was... unreliable. He would lose a few hour's memory and then he would be somewhere else.
Maybe the whole process was just malfunctioning... maybe HE was malfunctioning... he had always known this would happen, but what was the alternative?
Strong mental energy signatures. Espers? Maybe he was near his home. He would have a word with the technicians.
The word 'Ryuka' was framed upon his lips...
NO! Not now! Rune let out a psychic scream, mentally wrenching control of his ego back from the intruder, driving him back into the murky recesses of the subconscious.
"Do you require healing, Reverent Fifth One?" the Elder gave him a funny look. He had returned with a pile of books in his arms to find Rune gripping his head in his hands, his teeth clenched, whispering to himself in a harsh voice.
"I... I'll live..." he muttered. He looked up at the books placed in his lap. One was a technical manual for the Telepathy Ball. Two more were advanced textbooks about telepathy, another was a more specialist book about medical conditions common in high level telepaths, another about psychological conditions, another three were history textbooks with large sections about the previous four Lutz generations.
"Elder?" he asked.
"What is the... exact relationship between me and Lutz?"
"What do you mean?"
"Am I still Rune, or am I Lutz? What exactly happens to Rune, and what exactly happens to Lutz?"
"Well, as I understand it, 'Lutz' is only a formal title now that the original Lutz has passed away. As far as your identity goes, you are still Rune Walsh, but you are also the Fifth Lutz, so of course you should be referred to at all times as Lutz!"
"What exactly is left of Lutz in the telepathy ball?"
"Only what is necessary for the completion of your duties as Lutz. The most important memories – such as the memories of Dark Force and the other foes Lutz fought in the past – some of the battle instincts, some of the advanced spells and techniques Lutz thought you might need to use..."
"Nothing like an actual full personality?"
"No, no, there isn't enough space on the telepathy ball to store something as complicated as an entire personality!" said the Elder, "Even if a telepathy ball could be made with enough space, and something could be found to power it, there would be no way to access it – memories are a lot easier to integrate into an existing personality than a whole new personality installed from scratch. Besides, it might destroy your old personality, and then nobody would ever volunteer for the transfer!"
Rune did not remember being asked for his consent. He was just told it was his destiny. Come to think of it, he didn't remember much about how he had first learnt it was his destiny, who had told him, how they had found him. How old had he been? How old was he now? He couldn't remember the place he had been born... damn you, you bastard, are you stealing my memories too, now?
"It was attempted, of course. A few prototypes were made. It must have been sad for them, to realise that they couldn't keep Lutz alive, after so many thousands of years..." mused the Elder, picking up a book that Rune had accidentally dropped in the puddle and wiping it with the air of someone very irritated at their priceless antiquarian books being dropped in puddles, "And you say this one is malfunctioning? Oh, dear... I hope Lutz had the forethought to remember to leave behind his memories of how to fix the telepathy ball... that's the kind of thing you never..."
Of course I don't know how to fix a telepathy ball, thought Lutz, I'm not a technician! That's why I have technicians! But- he peered at the manual – it was kept in terrible condition – being held before him by the man who looked like his friend Loid, but wasn't him – he supposed it wasn't that difficult to learn. Anyway, he didn't want to sit here and discuss broken telepathy balls with this man. The telepathy balls NEVER worked!
"Ryuka." he said firmly.